Wednesday, December 30, 2009

I didn't see anything I liked, so I didn't buy anything...

A curious collection of stories by a number of talented folk.

Today was "skip week" in the comic book industry. Don't ask for an explanation because its one of those inside horrors those of us who read comic books suppress conscious awareness of until the event rears it's ugly head once every blue moon or so and we are forced to deal with the horrible reality of it. Simply put, it is a Wednesday where no trucks arrive at the local comic book store laden with their shipment of the "paper crack" we addicts of the four color print books live for from week to week. (I'm having difficulty writing a post this evening as the cold sweats of withdrawal ooze forth from the pores of my tormented and clammy flesh.)

I didn't know what else to do today so like one of the mindless zombies who shambled about the mall in that Romero movie I still made my way to the comic book store of my choice, Mavericks, in Dayton, Ohio and whimpered my way through the aisles looking for something, anything that might keep me going until the chronic arrives again next week. I found myself standing in front of the TPBs', (Trade Paperbacks) a place I would normally assiduously avoid, actually perusing the damnable things for potential purchase consideration. I can't begin to express how dirty I felt as the depth of the depravity of my addiction dawned upon me in that moment.

Let me illuminate...

I don't like trade paperbacks because they are a graphic disregard for anything even resembling respect, let alone even passing consideration for the "Green Movement". Many of the trade paperback books being produced are collections of comic book titles that were dreadful to begin with and are better off left to die and then fade away into a well deserved obscurity. Not every comic book story arc deserves to be collected and turned into a trade paperback release. Some comic book story arcs should be collected, recycled and turned back into usable paper upon which more deserving story lines could be printed and distributed to the general public. I think the comic book industry would do well to take a page as it were from the video game industry when it comes to producing trade paperback books.

Video game companies produce a limited number of any particular new game and wait to see how well it is received in the marketplace before producing more units. If a game proves to be a flop they're not losing large sums of money. If a game proves popular enough, by reaching a certain number of units moved, they release the game as a greatest hits release. Yeah, it minimizes the initial investment risk and maximizes back side profit by correctly meeting actual market demand as it actually materializes.

Most comic book companies are producing tons of titles in the hopes that if you throw enough stuff against the proverbial marketplace wall something will eventually stick and they'll make some money. The trouble is that with the economy being what it is right now they're spending more money than they can reasonably hope to recoup on the process of throwing a ton of crap at a wall that only a pound or two will stick to.

Trade paperbacks may produce a certain amount of sales, but are they selling at a rate capable of covering the cost of both producing and storing them in warehouses in the event one creates the big market demand? How many of those units produced are now winding up on after market shelves (like those at Mile High Comics) where it is hoped they will sell at a reduced price rather than continuing to eat up valuable warehouse space? According to the newsletter I received from Mile High Comics, Dark Horse just unloaded a ton of trade paperbacks upon them. And trust me, Mile High is working awfully hard to convince me just how much I need to think about starting my collection today.

So, I'm standing in front of the trade paperback selection when my eyes fall upon, "Weird Tales" Volumes one and two. Now, I have the original issues and consider them gems in my humble collection of books I wouldn't part with to save my soul. It is a rare occasion indeed that I pull them from the boxes they are stored in and only then to prove to a sceptic that I do indeed have them all in my possession. (I never take them out of the bagged and boarded preservation units that protect them from wear and tear. Would you?)

This is a series worthy of being collected and released as a trade paperback. As are all of the early works of Hellboy produced by Mike Mignola. They are historical and significant. They are artistic wonders and deserve preservation. As trade paperbacks they are books I can put into the hands of those less trained in the art of proper comic book handling and say, "Read this and behold the greater glory of comicdom." My originals are safe from harm and I can read and enjoy the stories without fear of ruining a classic comic that one day may bring my great grandchildren tens or twenties of dollars.

So many times when I attempt to share my love of the comic book art form with my younger friends I am rebuffed with, "Dude, how many trees do they cut down each week to feed your habit?" I may never be able to fully overcome this objection, but the argument's impact could certainly be minimized if the industry reduced the volume of books produced each month and focused on producing a higher quality of book. I dare say that a company launching a marketing campaign around the concept of producing fewer titles in order to go green would find a new and younger audience, to whom these things do matter, receptive and willing to invest their hard earned dollar in their product.

The times are tough. Everyone is fighting for survival right now. As Thoreau would say, "Simplify, simplify simplify. Instead of a hundred, make of your affairs fifty. Instead of fifty, make of them ten." Crossovers? Trade paperbacks? Multiple character titles? Gentlemen, the times should be forcing you to rethink and re approach your tactics. The real key to survival right now is simplification, not the old market saturation tactic made so popular by Coca Cola. I go to the comic book store each and every week. Tons of books not worth the paper they're printed upon vie for first my attention and then in turn for my dollar. Quality always wins out over volume...

And yes, I also have Hellboy Junior, both in original release and trade paperback...

Oh, can anyone name the song the title of this post is from?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A rededication...

Perhaps my single favorite comic book issue of 2009

After finding myself spending far too much time on FaceBook playing Mafia Wars I've decided to return to the blogosphere and to an activity I've been missing an awful lot lately, blogging. In particular I've really missed blogging about comics and the industry that produces them on a weekly basis. My New Year's Resolution for 2010 is to return to posting, at the least, one article per week about one of my favorite pastimes, comic books.

With that said, here is my year end, Top Ten List of the books I enjoyed the most in 2009.

10. R.E.B.E.L.S. (D.C.) With the exception of the two "Darkest Night" crossover books this has been one of my favorite titles of 2009. Tony Bedard handles the writing part of the book with a true aficionado's appreciation of the original L.E.G.I.O.N. title while at the same time creating a new and interesting storyline. Unlike Hannibal Tabu over at CBR (Who in my humble opinion wouldn't know a good comic book if it came up and sat on his hip hop face.) I think Tony handles the character Vril Dox with perfect understanding. While Vril Dox and his motivations for doing whatever it is he decides to do at any given time are central to the book, it is the antics of the front line characters who are manipulated by him that provide the center stage action of the series. Vril Dox is a behind the scenes puppet master. Tony understands this and handles Vril Dox with subtly and finesse. The best annual of the year too...

9. Greek Street (Vertigo) Again, a book that Hannibal Tabu dismisses as incomprehensible is to me a sophisticated and well plotted read. (It simply proves to me that being hip doesn't make one literate.) Peter Milligan's writing is elegant and gritty at the same time. He's produced a book that I can can only describe as a beautiful portrayal of the grand ugly. I'll miss the artistic stylings of Davide Gianfelice when he moves on, but for the time being these two have teamed up in a great book. This is a book I put my big boy panties on to read...

8. The Unwritten (Vertigo) If you enjoy something more in your comic book diet than capes, cowls, rings or super powers this is a book you'll look forward to reading every month. Mike Carey has created a marvelous world with a slowly unfolding story line that keeps me coming back for more with each new issue. I thought issue five, "How The Whale Became" was as good a story as I read in 2009. Again, this is a grownup book that requires the reader to engage their mind as actively as they engage their eyes. If you enjoy reading, you'll like this book.

7. Incarnate (Radical) Nick Simmons (Son of Kiss front man, Gene Simmons.) makes his comic book debut with this book. I have to admit that I was surprised and in no small way impressed with his abilities in handling both the writing and pencils of this book. Nick has talent and I hope he continues to contribute to the Radical line of comics in 2010. This three issue mini-series really entertained me and I'd like to see more of the characters he spawned in this series.

6. Citizen Rex (Dark Horse) I'm normally not the biggest fan of black and white titles. I just don't think many of today's artists understand how to make the genre work and the books just don't do it for me. The Hernandez brothers are masters of the genre and Citizen Rex was as good a read as there was to be found in 2009. The six issue mini-series was entertaining, well paced and a damn fine piece of science fiction extrapolation. This book is the ideal of what I think comics can be at their best. The story was well written and I enjoyed book six as much as I enjoyed book one. (I'm so sick and tired of mini-series titles that work for five of the six issues and then collapse into unresolved piles of spaghetti in the final book of the series. ) This story was seamless and complete. Period... The covers were sweet, the inside panels too. In a nutshell, the best damn black and white book I've read in a very long time.

5. Solomon Kane (Dark Horse) Spooky and dark. I simply couldn't believe what a great storyline Scott Allie managed to pull out of the scraps left to us by Robert Howard. This is another book that left me wanting more when I finished the mini-series and I'm very happy to report that a new Solomon Kane book is coming in 2010. And it will be illustrated by Guy Davis! I love Guy's work and can't wait to read the next installment of this title.

4. Incognito (Icon) Sean Phillips and Ed Brubaker produced one of the best six issue mini-series titles of the year. I didn't want this series to end and as far as I'm concerned they could start a company of their own with the characters in this story and I'd buy every book in the line. Seriously, this was story telling at its most engaging and entertaining level. I want more...

3. The Dream Hunters (Vertigo) Neil Gaiman and P Craig Russell produced the most beautiful book of 2009. Visually one of the most engaging books I read this year and at the same time one of the most intelligent and sophisticated comic books I've ever read. Short run titles have become my favorite books these days. I like stories that have a beginning, a middle and an end. I'm tired of the infinite cliff hangers that were the staple of the industry for so many years. Give me a story that runs a good course and isn't afraid of ending. I'm tired of characters that never die. Books like this prove that a character can die and a story end without bringing down the company. I wish there were more books like this on store shelves today.

2. B.P.R.D. (Dark Horse) Both the story arcs, "1947" and the conclusion to "War of Frogs" were great pieces of story telling. I'll never forget turning the page in issue four of 1947 and seeing poor Simon covered in bites and drifting away on the sea of oblivion while the succubi fed upon him. Mike Mignola is a god, plain and simple... Just as I will never forget issue four of 1947, I will probably be haunted forever by the final panels in book four of, "War on Frogs". I don't want to ever pass into the great beyond and find something like that waiting to carry me home. Gross and ugh! I still shudder when I think about it...

1. Hellboy (Dark Horse) The Wild Hunt was Hellboy at his best and I can't wait to see what Mignola has in store for 2010. Hellboy has begun to fulfill his destiny, but will it be the one everyone else has in mind for him or will he finally free himself from a predestined path and begin a journey solely of his own design? Mike Mignola represents what I believe to be the best of Dark Horse and the majority of the books they produce. Mike Mignola does whatever Mike Mignola wants to do and if the fan likes it, so be it. If the fan doesn't like it, so what, Mike remained true to his vision and his work carries a real integrity for doing so. And Mike knows how to relegate responsibility to quality people to work with his creations and trust in their ability to deliver quality goods. Scott Allie, Guy Davis... Need I say more?