THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A COMICS EMERGENCY

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Commentary


COMMENTARY: OCTOBER 16, 2006

WHAT ABOUT MANGA?

I found myself in the middle of the manga revolution in 2003, finally deciding that it was time for me to learn to read right-to-left. I started with one book, BATTLE ROYALE , and from there, my love of the form began to blossom.

Now manga comprises almost half of what I read every month (but not what I review, purely because I try and spread my reviewing around among almost 30 different publishers). I love nothing more than letting a couple of volumes of a series collect on my table, then laying down and devouring 400 pages of story in an evening. It’s rather like watching a film, especially when you consider the variety in stories and genres manga offers. One of my favorite series is NODAME CANTABILE, which focuses on music students. You aren’t going to get that from Marvel or DC, you know?

And it is because of such things that the market for manga has continued to grow and thrive. Manga offers something for every audience, particularly younger women, and that’s meant big bucks to the bookstore market. NARUTO, thanks to its popularity on television and in print, is selling absurd numbers of books, and it’s wonderful to see. But for the most part, manga hasn’t made strong in-roads in the comics shops, and the question of why lingers.

In many cases, manga is met with suspicion by storeowners. They got into business to sell X-MEN and BATMAN, and this funny-looking stuff from the Far East scares them. Plus, it brings a clientele into their shops that they don’t understand and might even be afraid of. They regard manga as a fad, and think that it’ll go away, and readers will come crawling back to buy SUPERMAN.

They couldn’t be more wrong.

Other stores have a different problem: they put manga out, but don’t understand how to sell or market it. And as much as the first category I mentioned above bothers me, this one might make me sadder.

One of the local stores here in Tempe recently completely removed its manga section from the store. When I asked, one of the employees explained to me that it just didn’t sell, and the inference is, of course, that that space could be used for materials that would. Now, let me say this: I like this store very much. I like and respect the owner a great deal. He’s an excellent retailer with a strong commitment to quality customer service. He’s extremely intelligent, and he’ll have my business for a long time. But just that once, I wanted to scream. Loudly.

It didn’t surprise me that manga just wasn’t selling there. Because the manga section, as it was, was flat-out awful. What was being carried was haphazard at best; there wasn’t a volume of DEATH NOTE, or DRAGON HEAD, or any other zeitgeist series on the shelves. NARUTO was there, but stuff like FRUITS BASKET wasn’t. It was kinda baffling. Plus, the shelving was haphazard. Things were only slightly in order, and new stuff wasn’t always filed in immediately, leading to stacks sitting upon stacks. Compared to the other graphic novel shelving in the store, it was obviously second class.

The store was trying, and I give them that. But it was obvious to anyone looking that things were going to come to a head, and manga was going to lose. However, it shouldn’t have come to that.

North America’s largest college student population sits (literally) one hundred yards from the front door of the place. A healthy chunk of those students actually come from the countries where manga is being produced. In all, over 40 thousand potential buyers are within reach, and plenty of them are reading manga. I see them sitting and reading it in the library, or in the student union, or on some of the larger grassy areas on campus. There’s even an anime festival held on campus every autumn. These students obviously have disposable income; it just needs to be tapped.

Back to my wanting to scream. It may sound like I wanted to scream because I was angry at the store, but that’s not it; I wanted to yell because I was angry with me. I watched the situation develop over a period of months, and I never once spoke up. I never offered to help. I never put forth my knowledge and expertise, and that aggravates me terribly. I could have saved that shelving. I could have helped my retailer. And doing nothing went horribly, horribly wrong.

So I’m making a plea/offer.

If you are running a shop, and you aren’t sure how best to put together a manga display, please: ask someone who does know. Ask me. Ask Dirk Deppey. Ask Johanna Draper Carlson. Ask Steven Grant. Don’t turn away dollars because of lack of knowledge. Don’t turn away customers because you don’t grasp their needs. You don’t have to lose out to the bookstores. You can create superior shelving, put on events… it just takes a little effort and a little smarts. So tap the resources available to you and make a little money. Reading right-to-left might just mean making money hand-over-fist.

Marc Mason

Commentary #3

BORED. BEYOND. BELIEF.

San Diego and Chicago have come and gone, and all I can say is: really? That’s it?

Fuck almighty. Where’s the excitement? I can’t remember a con season where so little of interest was announced or teased. Let’s take a look at what we heard, shall we?

Frank Miller’s going to direct a SPIRIT film? Great. How many ass-shots of Denny Colt’s love interests will we get? Is there really someone who looked at SIN CITY and attributed anything but the look to Frank? Have they been randomly drug tested lately if they did?

Michael Turner is drawing an ULTIMATE WOLVERINE miniseries? That’s not news. It is, however, a reason for burning down Quebecor before the book can leave the presses and get into the hands of the legion of chronic masturbators who believe Turner can actually draw. Dear Fanboys: Mike couldn’t draw flies if he was drunk and lying passed out in an alley. Figure it out. And if you need final convincing, please look at (then destroy) that god-awful Supergirl action figure sculpted off his designs. For those unfamiliar with real female anatomy, a brief lesson: women have ribcages. Just wanted to let you know.

What else? Does it really matter?

Comics as an industry are just really deadly dull right now. We’re in a quote/unquote “news cycle” right now that’s begun swallowing its own tale. Bendis will be writing another overly talkative Avengers book, DC is laying the ground for the next part of their universe-shaping “crisis”, there are relaunches of series topping the charts (WONDER WOMAN, FLASH, JLA, etc), Marvel’s big crossover event is topping the sales charts. If that sounds familiar, that’s because that was last year’s news. And the year before that, too. Wake me up when it’s over, huh?

While there are legitimately fantastic publications hitting the stands, like LOST GIRLS, FLIGHT 3, and the paperback edition of EPILEPTIC, they keep getting buried in the race to take note of who’s hot and who’s not

I know… cry me a river, right? It isn’t like that’s not business as usual. However, these days it seems to be a lot more of a soul draining exercise. I walked around San Diego for five days, saw some amazing work being done, spent time with some wondrously creative people, and yet it all seems for naught in many ways. These people are putting together projects that would sit on anyone’s shelves with pride, but the likelihood of enough readers knowing about them to buy them is miniscule.

Putting my mind to it, that’s partially why I’m here. I’m lucky; I get to see an amazing variety of books produced by companies other than the “Big 2”. I have the privilege of putting a book like DeTALES in front of your eyes and giving it a push. Because, let’s face it, those slobbering for books featuring perverts in tights aren’t going to buy it. And I see a ton of manga cross my desk. You know, manga…? That format that continues to hold 45-46 of the top 50 sales slots on Bookscan every week, but gets described as a “fad” by idiot retailers who don’t understand it, even though it’s been dominating the sales for over three years?

Is it too much to ask to be excited? I don’t want to be offered a peep show, but I do want some genuine electricity sent up my spine by the art form I love. Don’t give me unnecessary books by talentless hacks; give me something we can be proud of as a collective. We’d all be better for it.

Marc Mason… Pissing in the wind… 8/11/06

7/12/06- Commentary #2

5 TIPS TO GETTING THE MOST OUT OF COMIC-CON INT’L

Next week sees the annual pilgrimage to San Diego, certainly my favorite time of the year. When you live in Arizona, a week in San Diego in the middle of July is nothing short of pure heaven.

Spurge and Heidi Mac do a pretty good job of gathering information and tips together for making the show one to remember. But as a yearly attendee, I’d like to offer my own thoughts on making Comic-Con International the best show you’ll go to this year.

1. Get a Ralph’s shopper’s card. Ralph’s is the downtown grocery, located a half mile from the convention center. It isn’t enough to try and eat cheaply; you can eat really cheaply if you work at it. Lunch and breakfast can be picked up at Ralph’s with ease. Last year, Power Bars were $1.00 with the card, as was Propel fitness water. That’s a solid, nutritious lunch or breakfast for two bucks.

2. Stay longer than the show runs. Many people will tell you to pick and choose the days you want to go. I recommend the opposite. There are many smaller residential hotels in the downtown area, and most of them offer weekly rates. I’m staying a week this year for $125 less than I paid for six days last year. The extra time allows you to get out and explore the local area, go to Sea World, etc, plus you get to experience the entirety of the con. And, oh yeah… a week in San Diego at any time of the year is always a thing of beauty.

3. Be extra nice to your servers. The fanboy crowd has a bad reputation in the local restaurants and bars. Bad hygiene, bad manners, and the ultimate: bad tippers. So strike a blow for civility and be polite. Smile, laugh, offer thanks, and leave a good tip. Not only is that person busting their hump for you, but also he or she is busting their hump for a table that is behaving like assholes. So your kindness will go a long way towards making someone’s life a little better, even if it’s only for a few minutes at a time. Plus, you’ll be making the rest of us look good.

4. Study the programming guide in advance. You are going to be one miserable human being if you don’t go into the day with some sort of idea about what you want to do with your time. Plus, with the size of the show and the distances that must be traveled, it becomes imperative that you allow yourself extra time to maneuver the crowds and reach your destination. There’s also the spectre of the large Hollywood panels “selling out.” It happens every year. Don’t get stuck on the outside. Have a clue.

5. Appreciate the experience for what it is. The Con isn’t just about comics and pop culture. It’s a social event. I write about comics almost daily; I don’t necessarily need to immerse myself in them for 4.5 days. But I do need to see friends. We’re a community, albeit a dysfunctional one, but some of my favorite members of the community live way across town, you dig? That usually means I see those folks once a year. And seeing them is worth every penny paid in hotel and airfare. So when you’re pondering why that dealer won’t mark down that toy you want, maybe you should start thinking about using that money to buy a friend a drink and make a toast to coming back the next year and seeing if it’s marked down.

I’ll be updating the site with con reports throughout the show. Hope to see you there!

Marc Mason

7/5/06- Commentary #1

Why?

It’s a good question, “why?” Why leave a cushy gig at a Hollywood-backed website that millions of people visit every month? Why leave a place where it’s someone else’s job to take care of the site? Why add a whole lot of grief, energy, and effort to your life when it was so much easier to do the writing and leave management, publicity, and the rest to others? Am I just a glutton for punishment?

Maybe.

But when the changes at MoviePoopShoot started coming down the pike, starting with the exit of editor and friend Chris Ryall, it became clear to me that I needed to make some changes in what I was doing, myself. It was easy to keep writing for the crew at View Askew; too easy, really. I had a comfort level that made sitting in front of the monitor a breeze. But comfort can be the natural enemy of someone engaging in a creative endeavor. We do our best work when challenged. You find out more about yourself when forced to hustle and prove your worth. And it had been a long time since I had been in a spot where I felt that pressure.

So when it was announced that The Shoot was going to become Quick Stop Entertainment, I had my push. It was time to move forward. Time to hustle. Now I sit here, URL in hand, and humbly ask you to make The Comics Waiting Room one of your regular destinations.

I’d also point out that there are two other excellent reasons why I have struck out on my own. First is the issue of control. I’ve written for two incarnations of Comic Book Galaxy, Khepri Comics, Movie Poop Shoot, and I currently contribute to the Comic Foundry. All fine gigs, but when site issues arose, or different directions were chosen, I’ve been stuck on the outside, looking in, quite quickly. I’ve also run into problems with turning in work and having it sit, ignored, until I’ve reminded the webmaster to post. Now, that’s the life of a freelancer, no matter what or where you write. I live with that every time I put together a pitch. But in creating this site, I have the ultimate control over my work. Few things mean more.

The other issue is brand management. In my regular job, I’ve begun working in marketing. Branding is a huge topic, and it’s important for even the smallest of businesses to establish and build their brands. The same goes for folks who write about comics. Think about it: Tom Spurgeon is the “Comics Reporter”. Heidi Mac is “The Beat”. Chris Allen has “Breakdowns”. Johanna Draper Carlson has “Comics Worth Reading”. Each of these writers has established their brand, and it’s synonymous with their names. While I’ve written “Should It Be A Movie?” and “The Aisle Seat”, I’ve also had the original Comics Waiting Room blog, and “Happy Nonsense,” my personal website. My brand has been a bit… scattered, to be polite about it.

So the brand stops here. The Comics Waiting Room is me. “The Aisle Seat” and “Should It Be A Movie?” will each appear as features here at the site, but the name to remember is the Waiting Room.

I’m going to make tons of mistakes; I’ll be learning on the job. But at the end of the day, they’re my mistakes at my job. And that’s enough to keep me smiling for a very long time. Thanks for joining me. Now let’s get to the comics, shall we?

Marc Mason
Tempe, Arizona
July 4th, 2006


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