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August 26, 2012


Thirteen Comics Purchases You Can Make For The Same Price As Buying Before Watchmen As Serial Comics

This year's publication of Before Watchmen has facilitated a significant amount of discussion, both public and private, about the state of creator's rights and the general direction of the industry. One under-discussed aspect of the project is its price. My own thinking on the topic was triggered this morning by the addition of two comics featuring the character Moloch to the initiative, and the resulting quick math that buying the entire series from a comics retailer might cost the average comics consumer a shade under $145.

I wondered what that meant in comics terms.

What follows is a list of 13 things comics and comics-related you can buy for roughly that same amount of money. I realize this isn't an exact science. You could do another thirteen books, and maybe a more representative sample. This was me basically going, "I wonder how many Popeye collections I could buy on Amazon.com for that amount?" repeated 13 times. I can also always have blown some of the math here. Prices change from on-line retailers almost daily. Some people have discounts at comics shops. Some might object to the notion that Before Watchmen is meant to be purchased in total. Others might feel it's deeply unfair to compare purchases across multiple platforms. As to that last pair of potential objections, I don't think either unfair -- I think this is the way that fans are being asked to purchase this material, the way DC would prefer you to be on board, and that this means it can be compared to any other way that fans can reasonably expect to get to any other comics. But yeah, this isn't a perfect thing.

I know in comics people want to prove things and justify them and find a-ha moments, but that's not what I'm doing here. If you want to win an argument that you've just made up and decided is important, our national virtual pastime, I'm certain you can find both cheap, great comics that make Before Watchmen look super-extravagant and comics for which so much is being asked they make Before Watchmen at your comics shop look like the bargain to end all bargains. I'm not interested in winning the Internet, not today. I'm hoping to engage a broader point about what comics cost and what is presented to us as something to buy. $145 at the comics shop is what one of the major players in the market is telling me is a worthwhile way to spend my money. Here are 13 other pretty casually gathered-together options for that same outlay.

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1. For $125, you can buy at least 50 digital comics released from Monkeybrain and the planned dozen issues of Double Barrel by Zander Cannon and Kevin Cannon.

That's probably about 75-80 comics all told, although you don't get the experience of owning them on paper. It's hard to tell the exact number of comics because the Monkeybrain stuff fluctuates between 99 cents and $1.99. At any rate, that seems like a lot of comics to me, exactly the kind of buying experience that could serve as the foundation for digital comics buying for the rest of your life. It feels like the future as opposed to something from before 1986.

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2. For $139.24, you can buy over 1120 pages of The Walking Dead + the first entire season of the television show on DVD, all from Amazon.com.

I was interested in how another popular comics series priced out and this is what I found for the fan-favorite Walking Dead material -- the comics in question are big deluxe version with about 550 or so pages. I would imagine you could dig around a bit and come to different totals in different ways.

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3. For a little less than $140, you can buy these Alan Moore works available through Top Shelf Comix: the three LOEG: Century books, From Hell, Lost Girls and all eight issues of the magazine Dodgem Logic.

Alan Moore's writing distinguished the Watchmen series on which Before Watchmen was based. He prefers to work with Top Shelf now, and they have a bunch of quality material available from the writer, frequently grouped together and/or discounted.

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4. For $143.09, you can buy all six volumes of The Complete EC Segar Popeye through Amazon.com.

This is a top-five, all-time comic and the best-case scenario I can imagine for Before Watchmen does not place them in the top five of anything. These are very handsome books, too, and look great on a shelf. I like that Rorschach character, but he's no J. Wellington Wimpy.

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5. For less than $110, you can buy the entirety of Love and Rockets Vol. 1 and the first four issues of the latest series from Fantagraphics Books.

The first volume of Love and Rockets was one of the great comic book series of the 1980s -- like the Moore/Gibbons Watchmen effort was, come to think of it. These paperback books they've been doing strike me as super-accessible, lovely little volumes. You can get them for cheap enough that I'm also tossing in the first four issues of the New Stories iteration of the title, which has included some of the best work anywhere over the last half-decade. Los Bros forever.

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6. For about $130, you can buy the following books of cartoonist Darwyn Cooke: Richard Stark's Parker Vols. 1-3 (hardcovers), Catwoman Vol. 1, and Selina's Big Score, plus a copy of his issue of Solo -- if you can find it.

I don't agree with consumer reprisals against the involved creators, although I suppose your mileage may vary. I suspect, however, that many of the creators involved will have done better work elsewhere. I like Darwyn Cooke's Parker books quite a bit, I think they're snap-to handsome and a lot of fun. You can toss in a pair of his Catwoman books and even his Solo comic book issue and not quite reach the $135 sales point.

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7. For what looks like to be about $130, you can buy the following books from the cartoonist Roger Langridge: The Show Must Go On, Snarked: Forks And Hope, Fred The Clown, Thor, The Mighty Avenger Vols. 1-2, and two of his Muppet Show volumes.

Roger Langridge was one of the comics pros that decided due to various creator's rights issues he could no longer stomach working for the mainstream publishers, including Before Watchmen home DC Comics, and was going to focus on the work he does for other publishers. You can get a ton of Roger Langridge comics for less than the price of the Before Watchmen books, covering a range of approaches and material -- you can even throw in some of the kind of books he doesn't really do anymore.

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8. For approximately $130, you can buy the following trade paperback collections created by the team of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips: Criminal Vols. 1-6, Incognito and Fatale Vol. 1.

Ed Brubaker recently made news for bringing a long phase of his career working for Marvel Comics to a close. He's also been an outspoken critic of DC's decision to publish Before Watchmen. You can buy eight books of his collaborations with the artist Sean Phillips without even trying hard to find a bargain, all for about what you'd pay your comics retailer for all those Before Watchmen comics.

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9. For $103.91, you can buy the eight-volume run of Naoki Urasawa's Pluto.

Some manga reaches into the significant double-digits in terms of getting the entire series, but other series are modest in terms of the amount of work available, and there's interesting stand-alone work out there, too, such as Vertical's treatment of some of the more mature works from Osamu Tezuka. Anyway, I think there's a cohesiveness to a big manga series that just doesn't exist in one that's editorially controlled, and I think the reading experience reflects that.

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10. For about $135, you can track down one of the Watchmen: The Absolute Edition volumes, all 12 issues of the original comic book and the director's cut of the movie version.

I don't know how good Before Watchmen will end up being -- I have my suspicions, based on those I've read thus far, but I can't 100 percent say for certain where it'll stand -- but I do know that the original Watchmen comic was pretty great. I didn't like the movie version, but other folks did.

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11. For about $134, you can buy Joe Sacco's two 2012 books, all of the Richard Thompson Cul De Sac collections in print, and the first four volumes of Lewis Trondheim Little Nothings series that NBM publishes, all from Amazon.com.

I wanted to do an entry that was just books that bring me a great deal of pleasure, that are also from people that provide solid, substantial work to dig into just about every time out. This would be an enormously pleasurable group of books to own. I own them!

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12. For what looks like less than $135, you put aside all the money required to buy the Barnaby series that's coming out from Fantagraphics plus the Philip Nel biography of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss.

I probably don't need this one with Popeye up there to point out how much strip material is available at a reasonable price now, but I thought I'd include at least one project that hasn't come out in case the anticipation of a project is something that you enjoy.

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13. Just about any way you want to do it, you could buy about 1600 pages of Usagi Yojimbo for less than $140.

That's paying top dollar for the softcover trades. In many ways, Usagi Yojimbo provides a strong contrast to a project like Before Watchmen, in that it's impossible to conceive of anyone at all wanting Usagi work to which creator Stan Sakai openly objected. Of course, I used to think that about Watchmen.

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I realize there's a stunt aspect to this. I also know that there are likely some comics fans out there for whom Before Watchmen bought over eight or nine months or however, all from their wonderful local retailer, really does the trick in terms of how they like to engage with comics and represents real value above and beyond many if not all of these choices. From my perspective, I continue to find it striking just how much we ask of people in terms of what they're being asked to fork over and how, not just in terms of other entertainment options but in relation to existing comics work. I think it's all on the table.

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posted 3:00 pm PST | Permalink
 

 
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