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The Indisputable Matt Maxwell Presents:









FULL BLEED 4:

THE GREAT COMIC-BOOK SWINDLE

I promise to try and stay on track this time. Really. But please note that said promise is not worth the digits it’s printed on. Once channeling has begun, one knows not where the spell will be headed. Patience, discipline, this is not the way of the school of something from nothing. You rolls your dice and takes your chances.

There. Invocation complete. Off to work.

A question. Where do comic book fans come from? How do readers even come into comics these days? Back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, the call to temptation from four-color fantasy was rife and ripe, roaming the drugstores and 7-11s of my youth. My first comic that I can recall reading? KAMANDI, number 21 or 22, I think. There was a giant radioactive bee on the first or second page and a bunch of guys wearing tinfoil suits to keep the radiation in saved Kamandi from said green glowing insect and whisked him to an underwater city which shortly came under attack. I never read that issue again or any other issue of that series until… uh… two years ago where I found a bunch of them for cheap and snapped them up. Anyways, I was all of six at the time, clearly not prepared for what was before me.

Comics remained largely off the radar screen but for acquisitions of the Fireside Marvel reprint volumes, or the STAR WARS treasury editions and even the monthly comics, until I found myself unable to come across them or I’d been distracted by some other vaguely shiny set of objects. Yes, I was drawn back into comics (more or less to stay for a length of time) by THE MICRONAUTS (oh, I was a fan of the toys and the comics looked suitably intriguing space opera/superhero lite – Michael Golden’s art sure helped there). Then ROM, then X-MEN and DAREDEVIL (you remember the issue with Daredevil cruising the bondage bars looking for the Gladiator impostor/rapist? – my third issue).

The nice thing about Marvel Comics of the time was that they were (over) written so that anyone could pick up an issue and know vaguely what was going on, who was who and how the ever-so-important-superpowers had come into play. Of course, that means that re-reading Miller’s run on DAREDEVIL now means skipped pages in every single issue, but that’s a small price to pay. Jim Shooter had this wacky belief that every issue was someone’s first issue and that they should be brought up to speed in the course of the story. I know. Crazy. But you know? That crazy got me involved in a whole mess of comics that I’d have ordinarily passed on. And they were cheap, too. Three comics for a buck (and some people howled at that exorbitant cost – granted, it’d become 2.5 comics for a buck very soon afterwards). But still. The kid consumption index rating for comics was pretty favorable. Particularly when you have to take your time to read the page because it’s packed.

And, as I said above, you could get them practically anywhere. Grocery store, newsstand (remember those? They still have ‘em in LA), bookstore, convenience store, airport, ferry terminal, seedy bus station. Now we all know that comics made the jump to a much more closed market in order to survive shrinkage on the newsstand (the returns just weren’t there for the real estate that comics demanded) and shakeups in distributorship (or were those shakeups precipitated by the shift to a single market? I often get that part confused.) One market to unite them and with the glossy paper bind them. One market is nice and convenient, but it can make it harder to actually get your comics (monthlies that is) unless you’re geographically blessed.

There are other factors that build up a wall to potential readership as well. I won’t address the imperviousness of continuity or the dependence of previous readership on comics writing today. That’s all stylistic stuff that could be done away with by editorial changes, if desired. But even so, in the ADVENTURES line at Marvel and the kids line at DC, I don’t see a lot of hand-holding to get kids into the pool a little bit easier, if you catch my drift. Sometimes readers don’t come into this wanting to have to uncover everything for themselves. Sometimes they just want a one-shot story that doesn’t insult their intelligence (and actually, the ADVENTURES line and the DC kids books seem to do this reasonably well). But where are those kids going to find these books? They’re still largely chained to places like bookstores and DM stores, in Wal-Marts from what I hear (I’m more of a Target guy myself; it’s closer and not as heebie-jeebie inducing).

I’m trying to think of a business where expanding the base is a problem and the apparent solution is tightening the base and deliberately not expanding outlets. Maybe this is an issue of not having the right platform/delivery (most places don’t want to give up all that face-out space for something that only returns a buck or so per unit, and is flimsy/prone to damage). I don’t know that pamphlets could be made any more profitable without goosing the price even more (and let’s face it, most comics break a hard sweat before they even come close to earning out their three dollar cover price. Lots fall flat trying to do so.) Monthly comics end up being both hard to find (unless suitably blessed) and expensive and perceived as not being a good value (even worse than being expensive). One or the other of those can be overcome. Both working in tandem cannot.

A simple price reduction isn’t going to work. That just means retailers make less, and people may or may not try new stuff (assuming there’s stuff that people even want to try). Unless the market is thriving, that’s a recipe for disaster. Besides, comics aren’t cheap to produce. Believe me, I know. And I went as cheap as I could (but tried not to look it).

So what are we looking at? Expensive format? Check. Expensive production? Check. Limited distribution? Check. Limited range of material? Check— kinda. Where are the entry points? Please don’t repeat that old chestnut about the movies doing it, because that hasn’t been borne out. Perhaps without the above limitations in play, more SPIDERMAN or SUPERMAN comics would sell. Maybe the continuing TEEN TITANS show gets new readers involved, if they know where to get the comics and can afford them.

We don’t need more walls around comics. There’s already enough out there. Don’t believe me? Just ask an “average” adult about the audience for comic books. They’ll set you straight. Comics are for kids and illiterates, maybe for nerds. Comics get labeled as pornographic because they make the abstract concrete. They take away the leap of imagination required to make the content objectionable (yes, there’s folks who object to anything, but you know what I’m getting at.)

We don’t need walls. We could use a little more sustainable development, some audience expansion, and increased availability. Maybe even a new platform altogether. But where we gonna find one of those…?

Matt Maxwell

Check out the trailer for Matt's STRANGEWAYS: MURDER MOON!:



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