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Reprint: M’s Spot – What The HECK Is Going On In The Comic Book Industry?

February 20, 2012

Do you ever get the feeling it’s the same shit, different day?

I do, especially when it comes to talking about DC and Marvel Comics. Whether it’s about Before WatchmenComic Book Price PointsAvengers Versus X-Men or Gary Friedrich’s lawsuit against Marvel… It just feels like an endless waltz– if I can steal the subtitle from the Gundam Wing movie. Of course, I don’t get tired of hearing other opinions or both sides of these arguments– but what I do get tired of is how it all starts to sound the same after a while.

And I’m starting to believe thinking this way is what it means to be a Inveterate Media Junkie.

BEFORE WATCHMEN 

Gosh, we never get tired of this cover

Are you sick of hearing about this “event” yet? Here’s what I keep hearing– the sound of comic shop cash registers ka-chinging across the globe in the not so distant future. I don’t fault DC for making money. Comics are a commercial medium after all.

It was either do a Watchmen related book or a line-wide crossover event. Either way, Before Watchmen just seems kind of safe. I think a majority of the IMJ Nation™and other DC fans recognize this as well. Judging by most comments, this prequel news is being met with a universal “Meh”.

Everybody that cares about such stuff already knows that Watchmen is a perennial best-selling graphic novel. But it is important to note that this book mostly sells to consumers who don’t find the idea of reading single issues appealing– or wouldn’t be caught dead walking into a comic shop and/or paying a premium to collect them.

What’s really crazy– everything you need to know about the Watchmen Universe can be found between the pages of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbonsoriginal finite series. The whole story is right there. I really don’t see a huge market– or even avid fan support– for a 35 issue prequel, released weekly (to attract digital buyers)– that features a two-page back-up story called CURSE OF THE CRIMSON CORSAIR… Especially since this “feature” was undoubtedly added simply so DC could justify raising the price of each comic to $3.99. This is nothing but DC feeding off a classic to go for dollar share supremacy over Marvel.

By bringing these prequels to bear, I feel DC has missed the point of what the original Watchmen series was about and what it represented. It’s a book, to me, that was very relevant to the time of its’ publication: Late 1980s America. This was very much a story about the “here and now” of the 80s– not a “remember when” of the 30s, 40s or 50s, etc. (If you desire storytelling that harkens back to a “simpler” time, I suggest some of Moore’s later work like Tom Strong or Supreme.)

I don’t see how books set in the Golden and Silver Age of comics can be relevant to a modern audience– except to serve as a trip down memory lane. The only series that I believe might capture the retro feel– while retaining some kind of a modern-day sensibility– will be Darwyn Cooke’s The Minutemen… And that feeling is solely based on his work on DC: The New Frontier and his IDW Parker books. But even that stellar track record doesn’t mean I’m going to buy this series.

PRICE POINTS AND SALES CHARTS

DC wants a BIGGER PIECE of this pie

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: I do not like paying $3.99 for a DC or Marvel comic book, and refuse to do so. Conversely, I will pay $3.99 for a creator owned book because I know the bulk of my money, after printing and distribution expenses, is going to the creators themselves. That said, the ones I buy presently are only $3.50 each– except for two IDW comics. Since Marvel has been quite insistent that they will continue to pricing their “marquee titles” at $3.99, I unfortunately don’t see my buying patterns changing any time soon.

Looking squarely at DC, I’m still wondering what happened to “Drawing the line at $2.99.” It seems like this grandiose promise will soon be swept under some musty old rug now that they have successfully introduced their New DC 52 line of comics. Granted, the company still prints more $2.99 books than $3.99 comics. And I give DC kudos for adding more story pages (or a co-feature) to compensate for any future price increases. But we all know that, eventually, these back-ups will disappear and the cover price will remain the same. What I also don’t like about DC’s looming price increases: It reeks, again, of their desperate desire to beat Marvel at their own game– increasing the dollar amount of their “marquee titles” in order to claim a higher dollar share of the market.

Does this EXCITE you? It better-- it's going to cost you an EXTRA BUCK!

It’s a real shame. I was truly looking forward to the return of the Batman Beyond series. But the second I heard the entry price will be $3.99 because of a Justice League Beyond co-feature, my interest died immediately. Sadly, I doubt this will be the last time they disappoint me.

Looking at January sales for the Top 300 Comic Books and seeing DC claim the entire Top 10 was enjoyable. But looking closer, the news was not as welcoming as I would’ve hoped. For starters, Justice League was number one. I don’t want go into specifics why that disappointed me (that’s a whole M’s Spot Column on its’ own)– just know that seeing this particular title in the top spot was as frustrating as watching that disastrous new AMC “reality” TV Show, Comic Book Men. It’s also disheartening to see Wonder Woman hasn’t cracked the Top 10, and that you have to go all the way to Number 59 before you see an indie book on the list… And, oh look– it’s The Walking Dead. It’s once again starting to feel like the comic book industry is turning into an arms race between Marvel and DC– and the good comics will be left decimated… Since these two seem destined to destroy each other sooner rather than later. I just hope they don’t take the rest of the industry down with them.

It's DEJA VU Part 2-- all over again!

AVENGERS VERSUS X-MEN

Speaking of killing each other: Jose already outlined in an earlier post how this Avengers/X-Men “event” is, yet again, another recycled idea from Marvel. So there really isn’t much for me to add other than to emphasize how completely unnecessary I feel this book is and how much it doesn’t need to exist.

We’ve already had Avengers versus Avengers in Marvel’s Civil War– and not to long ago X-Man versus X-Man in Schism. I don’t know if I’m just suffering from event fatigue or, more likely, Marvel just seems like they’re throwing shit on the wall to see what sticks. This is “The Architects” next big thing?!?

I think I’ll pass.

GARY FRIEDRICH AGAINST MARVEL/DISNEY

Watching this court case play out left me asking, “How far have we really come when dealing with the issue of creator rights?” You can’t help but wonder– especially when you look beyond Friedrich’s case and start analyzing the Jack Kirby Estate suit versus Marvel and Tony Moore’s recent filing against Robert Kirkman. It took a big budget Hollywood movie before Siegel & Shuster got their credit back for creating Superman– and minimal yearly compensation for Superman related comics and merchandise.

Gary Friedrich, in happier times

Back to Friedrich’s case: The writer vows to appeal the recent decision– so whether his claims are legitimate or not has not been fully determined by the courts.

My main concern, and the concern of many fans and creators alike, was Marvel insisting Friedrich pay damages of $17,000 for selling signed reproductions of Ghost Rider covers at conventions and taking away his ability to promote himself as the co-creator of Ghost Rider. Over at CBR, Marvel Publisher Dan Buckley and Joey Q are doing their best to save face… But I doubt they’ll be able to change how poorly their aggressive counter suit looks on the surface.

This is how you treat a former employee whose creation will be making his second trip to the box office this weekend? Call me a Marvel Hater– I DON’T CARE! It’s just bad business, and you know the whole ordeal has been badly received when you have to send your Chief Creative Officer and Publisher out to defend the action. It makes me want to vomit! But before I do, the bright side is that Steve Niles is heading the campaign to raise the $17,000 Gary needs to satisfy Marvel’s legal eagles.

I feel the most surprising, unsatisfactory repercussion from this mess came from comic book artist Sean Murphy’s announcement on his deviantART page: He states that he will no longer be sketching characters he does not own. That’s what we’ve come to now: Artists unwilling to draw a simple sketch of a well-known character they do not own because they do not want to risk legal reprisal from some corporate Media Giant.

WHAT TO LOOK FORWARD TO IN 2012

Besides the end of the world? Another volume of Blacksad with its great art and excellent hard-boiled storytelling. This book never disappoints. Other than that, it’s mostly just looking like same shit, different day.

Hope you enjoyed me dancing on my soap box.

[This post originally appeared on the Inveterate Media Junkies website. I consider it my own mission statement. The single post that encapsulates everything I have been saying for years about the comic book industry. If and when people ask me what my thoughts are about the current state of the American comic book industry I will direct them to this column.]

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