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The Indisputable Matt Maxwell Presents:




And everything is made from dreams, just like Mr. Waits said in “Temptation” off of FRANK’S WILD YEARS.

I must admit that I don’t pay the close attention to the outrage of the day across the comics blogosphere, not nearly as much as I once did. Though I do keep seeing recurring speculation on the future of pricing for monthly comics now. Of course, there’s a lot of “Hell no I ain’t paying four bucks for a single issue of a comic book.” On the surface, I can get with that (mostly because the times I’ll pay for a single issue on any given visit to a comic shop can be counted on the finger of one mangled hand.)

Though I’ll note that both IDW and Boom! (can’t forget the exclamation point) have already trended towards four dollar single issues. I think Dynamite has as well, but I haven’t checked and I’m sure that if I’m wrong I’ll hear from them in rather short order (guys, I just had the front windows replaced, so toss those bricks at the door). The funny thing? All those companies have grown over the last several years, not shrunk. Now I know a bunch of people who say that they’re put off by the high cover prices on the singles and say that they’ll never buy them.

But then, somebody else is, right? I can’t imagine that all those comics are being put out just to become loss leaders for the respective companies’ trade programs. That doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense. So there’s obviously some market for them; these houses have built up steady audiences. This alone should be applauded, given the way the comics business runs. But to do so while bucking the trend of “value” comics (i.e. the three dollar cover price, which to older readers like me is unfathomable at times) is a noteworthy achievement.

But I don’t know the realities behind the numbers. It may indeed be that these single issues really are out there just to break ground for the trade collections. That’s the thought that explains continued support of (worthy) Vertigo comics in the monthly form even though those raw numbers alone aren’t very good (with some exceptions, mind you.) For instance, SCALPED, which I’m reading in trades (sorry, guys) is a wonderful, lean crime drama is a great read and one of the bright spots in modern comics for me.

But it can’t make me go out to a comic store and put down three dollars a month for the single issues. If that makes me a bad comic fan and the guy solely responsible for the industry tanking, then mea culpa, I’m that dude. Three dollars and more than two hours for a trip (when all is said and done) to get a chapter of a story doesn’t work out for me. Four dollars is certainly a dis-incentive as well. But then again, even if the comics were TWO dollars apiece, I doubt I’d make the trip to get them from a store on a regular basis.

The cover price isn’t really the issue for me. And ultimately, I’m pretty sure it’s not as much of an issue for comics fans as it’s often made out to be. The main lines of Marvel and DC will probably take a hit when that price rise goes into play, and I’m sure they’ve got a legion of number-crunchers figuring out and forecasting if the increased revenue from a dollar-per-issue cover price will offset the loss of readers/fans. I don’t think that the fans will be shaken out, ever. They might have to buy fewer books (which means that B-list titles or spin-offs will have a much shorter window of opportunity to prove themselves or have to work that much harder to build an audience) but the fans won’t ever really quit.

For the record, I haven’t been a comics fan since the early nineties. And even then, I wasn’t buying into all the crossovers, etc. By that metric, I stopped being a comics fan in the middle/late eighties. I still read comics, even a lot of them, but my buying habits had already shifted to collections where possible (SANDMAN being the foremost amongst those, even though I bought all the singles, but some of the odd older stuff as it trickled out.) I’d buy crazy stuff like THE OUTCASTS or LIVEWIRE or SONIC DISRUPTORS in addition to whatever proto-Vertigo comics or Byrne-era SUPERMAN comics I was buying, but I’d given up trying to keep up with the whole shebang, as I had with Marvel in the early days of the eighties.

Comics fans will stick with their books until given no other option. But that ain’t me. I read ‘em, but I don’t build my schedule around ‘em. They’re not my primary reading outlet (as I’ve mentioned before, non-fiction eats more of my reading time than I’d like, but that’s an occupational hazard.) A price rise, however, will shake out a lot of the casual readers or off-the-wall title followers. Or it will encourage even more people to wait for the trade. Maybe that won’t be a bad thing.

Oh, and another thing, the price rise will probably make a lot of non-DM comics outlets consider whether or not they want to even deal with single-issue comics. See, out at Borders or what have you, when your rack single issues, you have to keep them nice and orderly and un-shredded. That’s a lot of labor for what may or may not be a lot of returns. Shrinkage (you know, when shoplifters walk away with a copy or when an issue of HULK gets put back with a Hulk-sized crease in the cover and remains un-bought for seven months until it’s chucked) on a two-dollar investment as opposed to a buck-fifty investment adds up. This is one of the things that chased comics off of newsstands years ago, around the dawn of the DM. They were just too expensive, but too cheap in terms of the amount of real-estate that they ate on the stand, and they were ripped up if you looked at ‘em funny.

Now granted, outside the DM, there’s not that much market for single-issue comics, so maybe I’m overstating the impact of that. This is both good news (Ha! Maxwell, you’re wrong about the impact!) and bad news (that there isn’t much of any market outside the DM for single issues.) So that silver lining indeed has a dark and fluffy storm cloud wrapped around it.

My instinct tells me that there will be a lot of anguish and wailing and gnashing of teeth about the price hikes, but probably not a lot of action taken. In the short term. In the long term, it’s going to be seen as another barrier in front of acquiring new, young readers. When you frame the talk as “five issues of a comic book or a used copy of Mario Cart 2 for you DS,” then the choice becomes a heck of a lot easier. Though truthfully, if you make it “a trade collection of these comics or the DS cartridge” that may not make it any better. I mean, sure, that’s easier for me (assuming it’s a trade that I’d actually, y’know, want to read.) But I’m not a normal reader. We established that.

Ultimately, though, I do feel that if the prices on the single issues go up enough, it’s going to force development of a new format or force publishers to retool towards a trade-based publishing model. I’ve brought this up before, but what’s stopping either company from coming up with a “House Line” squarebound magazine-format comic? Toss the continuing storylines together in the same cover (not a crossover please), put some ads in it, upgrade the paper, throw in some other features and you might be looking at something that’s a lot more viable in terms of breaking past the 32 page pamphlet format. Oh, I said it. You can start chucking your tomatoes at me now. Go ahead, I’ll take a shower afterwards.

Just like high oil prices make people itchy about developing more efficient electric cars or wind power or solar, high enough prices on the singles will make people want to move in another direction. Okay, it won’t dissuade the True Believers. But then I’m not one of those (and the three-dollar covers were certainly a contributing factor.) I was continually driven nuts by being offered a chapter at a time. And the publishers were just going to make a trade anyways, so what the hell. I wasn’t a habitual buyer anyways; not gonna miss out on anything by skipping the monthlies. Okay, CRIMINAL has bonus features that I miss in the singles, but I really just want the story.

Of course, the big two are beginning to invest heavily into their online comics initiatives, so all this might be mooted in pretty short order. Use the online comics to sell trades. What a genius idea. I wonder if any other indie guys have gotten that thought into their heads. Nah, I’m sure the ACHEWOOD and PENNY ARCADE guy aren’t gonna sell any real-world books off their webcomics. That’d never happen.

And for horror-western comics? Offering it online first for free? Man, that’d never work…

Did I mention that there’s six pages of STRANGEWAYS: THE THIRSTY up at http://blog.newsarama.com/strangeways? There are.

Give it a read and prove me not so much a fool, eh?

Back in a fortnight.


Matt Maxwell



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