I visited Toys R Us last week. When I walked in the door, this is what I was greeted with:
That picture shows you about a third of the "Iron Man 2" merchandise on display. And while, true, nary a comic book could be found, it still hit me:
Things are pretty good in superhero comic land.
20 years ago, we were a niche audience. While comics sold ten times what they sell today, they were ignored and the subject of only the very rare Hollywood butchering. Today, superheroes have their own toy aisles at the toy store. And when a big budget Hollywood adaptation of a comic -- a sequel! To a Top 10 Movie of All Time! -- is on its way, there's an insanely large display associated with it at the toy store. â€¨â€¨This completely blows the mind of the 13 year-old me who started reading comics in 1989. Sure, we had the Batman movie and the TMNT movie, but they were flashes in the pan, oases in a desert, and doomed to awful sequels that left bad tastes in everyone's mouthes.
Today, such movies are the norm -- big Hollywood blockbusters. They're a ridiculously large number of the Top 20 highest grossing movies of all time. Superhero movies are summertime tent-poles and Christmas DVD/Blu Ray stocking stuffers.
People who've never read a comic are looking forward to "Iron Man 2." Toys R Us has dedicated their most prime shelving space towards a Marvel comics character -- that isn't Spider-Man.
I stood there at Toys R Us and gaped at the display. It was ginormous. And while I do worry about the future of comics for generations upcoming, at least I know they're growing up familiar with the characters. That might even lead to their iPad comics purchases down the road.
Hopelessly optimistic? Perhaps, but for one night last week, I soaked it all in and was very happy with the world of superhero comics. I liked it.
RANDOM THOUGHTS OF A MISCELLANEOUS NATURE
Will digital comics invert the world of comics collectibility?
If books don't go out of print and are instead available all at all times with a simple download, are older comics any more "collectible" than new ones? Short of Marvel/DC pulling a Disney DVD policy of yanking products off the shelf for seven years after a short availability window, older digital comics won't be susceptible to the laws of supply and demand that drive up prices on back-issues. The Long Tail will do its thing.
Instead, the only reason to charge more for a comic is for accessibility; that may mean day-and-date releases. Your new comics are worth more this week than the months-old or years-old releases. If you want it now, you pay for it. If you want to wait for it, it'll always be available without the premium down the line.
It's interesting to see all the fallout digital comics might have, isn't it?
* More bi-monthly comics to add to last week's gaggle of Marvel bi-monthlies: "Astonishing X-Men/Wolverine," and "New Ultimates." And "Powers," itself, is going bi-monthly, too. (Thanks, Pipeline Message Board!)
* Marvel is a pack of dirty cheaters.â€¨There, that got your attention. Remember the silhouetted reveals of cast members for their various "Avengers" series a few weeks back? Have you taken a look at the before-and-afters of those? Here are a few of the Secret Avengers.
Notice anything? The silhouettes leave out clues to help you guess the characters' identities. Subtle things like shoulder-mounted weapons, fur, claws, and long hair. (Really, we could guess Valkyrie was female by the D-cup breast jutting out of the silhouette. Hiding her hair didn't do much.)
Yes, I know. It's not about fairness. It's about marketing. It's about the Benjamins. I get it. But you know how mad you got when "Armageddon 2001" ended with Hawk being the bad guy, because it made no sense because the proper clues weren't planted? Yeah, quit whining about that now, too.
Same concept there. Play fair. It's all we ask.
* Yup, more Marvel comics are $3.99 than $2.99 now. Only took a year since I called it, but the future is here and it's expensive. How about those digital comics now? Certainly, there's a whole continent filled with people this month who'd LOVE day-and-date releases. While under the ash cloud, the only new comics being read in the UK were pirated ones, after all.
* So let me get this straight, and stop me the minute your head hurts: Columbia wants to make a Ghost Rider movie so they can keep the rights to make future Ghost Rider movies. It's not because they have a great director or a great script or a great concept on hand. They just don't want the old studio to make one that's better than their last box office bomb and show them up?
Now, Nicolas Cage was the first Ghost Rider and one presumes Columbia wants him to be in the second movie. But Disney already has dibs on Cage for another "National Treasure" movie. And Disney owns Marvel. So doesn't it behoove Disney to speed up production on "National Treasure" to tie up Cage so Columbia can't make another "Ghost Rider" movie and Disney gets their rights back?
But if the rights are that valuable, why doesn't Columbia just go ahead and make a cheap turd (like the first one, many may argue) without Nicolas Cage (some would argue that a Cage-less movie would automatically be better) and start planning in earnest for the third movie to be good, with the presumed extension/renewal that would give them on the renewal clause in their contract?
Man, and I thought the comics world was weird. Movie Land is even stranger.
* There's a "Young Justice" cartoon coming from Cartoon Network. I'm hoping this means fresh collections of the Peter David/Todd Nauck series that I loved so much back in the day. In 12-issue hardcovers? (Yeah, I'm really pushing it now.) Those issues deserve a Pipeline Retro column someday.
* Did I mention yet how excited I was to hear about the return of The Smurfs to English language publication? Because I am.
* Just to balance that out, here's a page of something I've been reading this week that is cartooned and beautiful to look at:
Guy Davis doing "B.P.R.D." is about as perfect a match between artist and series as you can get today. There's an insane amount of storytelling going on in that page. There's a lot to study in that page: the gestures, the quick glances, the timing, the establishing shot's use of lighting to guide the eye.
I'm just finishing reading the "Modern Masters: Guy Davis" book (TwoMorrows, $15.95) and it's great. I didn't discover Davis' art until the "Deadline" miniseries at Marvel but I've been in love with it ever since. There's a natural cartooniness and attention to detail in his work that pushes all the right buttons for me.
While I still haven't gone back to pick up those "Sandman Mystery Theatre" trades, I devoured the "B.P.R.D." books last year and have picked them back up again after starting this book. Turns out I was two collections behind on the series. Lucky me, more Guy Davis art!
I didn't know much about Davis before the TwoMorrows book and many of the events are just far enough in his past now that he has a detached view of it and isn't worried about telling stories out of school. No, there's nothing scandalous, and he is a little hard on himself. He doesn't name names but there are easy ways to figure some of them out. (Which editor had Davis' character's stubble redrawn at Vertigo and then left for CrossGen shortly after? I didn't even need to look that one up to figure it out.)
"Modern Masters: Guy Davis" also pointed out to me that there are other smaller works I need to dig up someday, like Davis' "Terminator" and "Aliens" work. Even if that seems like less mature work, there's still energy on those pages and a sense of space that few artists today can manage.
This "Modern Masters" book is gloriously illustrated, including some layouts-to-final-page comparisons that are informative. If you're a Davis fan or a "B.P.R.D." fan, this is a book that won't disappoint you.
Oh, how I wish they'd do oversized B.P.R.D. hardcover collections. . .
THE PIPELINE WEBCOMICS PROJECT, PART 1
If there's one thing that's generally missing in Pipeline's coverage, it's webcomics. Every now and again, a print compilation of webcomics catches my eye but I don't generally review or recommend any of the thousands of regularly-updated webcomics out there today. To make up for that, I'm jumping in with both feet. Each week, I plan on reviewing two or three webcomics that I come across. They will be completely random. I might find them via Project Wonderfall ads. I might find them with keyword searches on Google. I might look up webcomic directories and hit page down x times until I find a link. I'll look through blogrolls. Whatever it takes. The goal is NOT to just cover the same old webcomics everyone is reading. The goal is to find a hidden gem out there somewhere.
Along the way, I plan on being merciless on the webcomics I do find. Just because you're free doesn't mean you get a break. If anything, in an overcrowded field, you don't get the benefit of the doubt. If you want my attention, you need to work for it. Be funny. Be nice to look at. Be memorable. Or be scorned.
(Please, please, please let me find some good ones. . . )
We'll start this week with two that have a very similar problem with their web designs.
Putting a tall video ad above the comic pushes the story off the bottom of the screen. Someone with a 1024 x 768-pixel display loses the strip when the page loads. That's awful. If your reader needs to scroll down to get to the webcomic, you're not making many friends.
Many of these strips take two seconds to read. The single-panel gags are even quicker. It takes longer to scroll than to read.
As the name implies, this is a webcomic for "Star Wars" fans. Each installment's strip is a single black-and-white strip or gag panel with static traces of "Star Wars" character publicity shots talking to one another. Language is not always safe for work.
I don't know who does this strip. It's someone named "Captain Rick." Or that's a Storm Trooper character from the strip. I don't know. Is the creator hiding from Lucasfilm lawyers?
While there are a few cheap laughs to be had here, reading more than two in a row of these will make you very bored very quickly. You've heard enough "Luke, I am your father" gags to see Luke saying "STFU" not really registering as funny anymore. Some of the more obscure jokes are explained in the text entries below the strips.
There are no dates on the strips, preferring just sequential strip numbers and SEO-friendly titles for each edition There is an email form but there's no indication who it's going to. I know the strip updates twice a week, but I have no idea if it's an active concern or not anymore. Doesn't matter. I don't feel the need to return to it.
There are bad web design choices and there are wretched web design choices. I mean, choices so bad that you might as well not bother drawing your webcomic because nobody is ever going to see it. Go ahead and click on the URL above. You have a nice image of an artist's desk with various implements and links to the comics, the About Page, Characters and Links. I clicked on "Comic." Nothing happened. I tried again. Is this Flash? Is it loading weirdly? Is my browser about to crash? Nope.
I tried the "About" page and got a Google ad popping up on the bottom of my screen. As it turns out, the comic strip and everything else loads up BELOW all those main navigation links that already took up my entire open window space. This might be worse than asking your reader to scroll down to today's comic. You're not even giving the reader the information that they need to scroll down to get to the comic in the first place. The creator of the strip is a SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) student, so let's chalk this up to a youthful indiscretion or a class project that was based solely on the content of the strip and not the webdesign.
There are 27 strips on the site. I've lost the archives link already, so don't ask me how to get there. The last one was updated in December 2009. Was this a school project, perhaps, with a limited life span? I don't know, but the navigation problem soured it for me so badly that I didn't bother with the strip.
I know I'm supposed to have a higher calling as a comics "critic" or "reviewer" or whatever you want to call me, but I'm just reading these as just a comics fan. I'll tell you right now that there are lots of people other than me that would have given up on the website sooner than I did.
Next week: I'll be looking for a good comic with a well-designed site. As a bonus, I hope it has a different font choice than all the other cheaply produced webcomics out there. I'm not holding my breath, but I'm willing to give bonus points. And, like I said, I'm stumbling around in the dark on purpose here. Please don't send me your links. I appreciate the desire to help, but part of the technique here is the randomness and the interconnectedness of it all. Let's see where it takes us. . .
Next week: More webcomics, thoughts on the intersection between Blu Ray discs and comics, and perhaps more.