Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

September 17, 2007

Random Comics News Story Round-Up

* Is it my imagination, or is there something fundamentally wrong with a superhero comic book carrying a title this dry, long and confusing? I hate to get all Grandpa Simpson about it, but when I was a kid, comic books were called things like X-Men and Thor. I suspect that if there had been comics around sporting titles like "Countdown Presents the Search for Ray Palmer: Wildstorm #1" when I was a kid, I would have given up comic books for setting fires and stealing porn that much sooner.

* NeilAlien asks a question I'd definitely like to see answered.

image* Jonathan Ross is a gifted entertainer (from what little I've seen) and Steve Ditko is a fascinating artist, so I'm surprised I find myself more than happy to wait until Mr. Ross' BBC-broadcast documentary on Mr. Ditko comes out on DVD at some distant point in the future, even if that means risking never seeing it at all. Other than some slight curiosity at to how Stan Lee looks if asked any impertinent questions, and a writer's interest to see how much myth gets folded into the historical coverage of Ditko's career (I'm expecting a healthy amount), I'm not certain how much of what's there will be for me, anyway. I'm still happy that there is a show like Ross' -- not because it brings Ditko's career to the unwashed masses or whatever, but because to appreciate Ditko is almost always to refashion the discussion of those early Marvel comics into talk of execution, how great the comics were, as opposed to the creation/conception argument around the characters that drives most Lee Vs. Kirby debates.

* Retailer Mike Sterling suggests that superhero fans seem perfectly fine with a married Spider-Man, thank you.

image* Writer Marc Bernardin asks out loud why his The Highwaymen comic didn't sell better than it did. Of course, since this is a question coming from an author, the question of how good the comic book mini-series was and whether or not it was of a quality it would in a perfect world find a large audience isn't going to come up in a way that's appropriately critical. Still, there's a germ of a good discussion in there. For one, the fact that the authors did a lot of ground-level press kind of points out how ineffectual web sites and pod casts can be in terms of bringing people to a certain project. I know that the coverage I provide, for example, might put a work in the consciousness of a few more people, but it's not going to result in a run at any comic shop. Press like that is more tipping point than bolt from the sky, and there's so much of it now it might be hard to figure out when something hits that saturation level. Tipping point press has a long tradition in comics -- there was no single review of Bone, for example, just a chorus of voices (I heard about it in the Comics Journal; many read a preview in Cerebus, and so on) saying "please check this comic out." The foundational hits of the late 1970s and early 1980s were all slow builders driven by critical consensus. But when you're talking about a mini-series like The Highwaymen, tipping point press may not have time to cohere before the series is gone.

There are a number of other issues touched on: how flabby the lower end of the market is for mainstream publishers, how little the usual market fixes like attention in Previews can ameliorate against that down-the-charts flaccidity, the potential decline of the WildStorm brand as a brand, and the rigidity that series of a certain type face in breaking out of a certain low-end numbers to make a larger market impression.

* Gil Roth notes this artist's rendition of an accoutrement-obsessed Green Lantern, I think from the red carpet of last week's VMAs.

* I liked this piece of analysis from David P. Welsh on what makes a good comic book shop, as it doesn't apologize for coming from his personal perspective and concentrates on universals rather than gets into the infinitely trickier subject of diversity of stock or a store's sales focus. I received a couple of e-mails castigating some of what I wrote last week for somehow suggesting that carrying certain kinds of comics doesn't matter. Of course it does. All things being equal, a shop with a diverse, compelling offering of books is far more useful to me and a much more excellent place using any all-around measure than one that isn't. Recent history also suggests those stores have a greater chance of survival than a single-genre store, and all general publishing trends favor diversity. Perhaps the great systemic shortcoming of the Direct Market is that it doesn't allow such shops the chance to thrive or the opportunity to gain a foothold to the degree it should given the healthy aspects of that model, short- and long-term. It's just that on an individual, shop to shop level, it's harder to make stick that kind of prescriptive, or at least to make a full-court press of it. There are too many other factors involved. Just because one might see a future of excellent shops where some of the small-town members, say, are more likely to have a display of games like Settlers of Catan than they are a stand-alone display featuring the Fantagraphics/Coconino Ignatz line doesn't mean they're not devoted to seeing the best stores possible.
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