There are classic novels that will never go out of print because for hundreds of years they have continued to make money for publishers. Is Animal Farm out of print? No, of course it isn’t, because even though it isn’t George Orwell’s most famous novel, it is widely accepted to be an important, seminal work, relevant and engaging to readers of any era. Similarly, while Elektra: Assassin may not have made the enormous impact that Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns made upon release, it is widely acknowledged to be a seminal work of both the writer (Miller) and the artist (Bill Sienkiewicz.) I truly believe that it is easily the greatest comic ever made, it is the pinnacle of the alchemy which can be achieved when a writer and an artist truly collaborate.
Now I am trying very hard not come across as some kind of over-zealous nutjob, but I really do think it is the best comic, particularly of that era and the fact that it is out-of-print speaks volumes about the publishers’ complete misunderstanding about content and value. While many applaud Watchmen as the greatest comic of the ’80’s, that wasn’t a comic book at all, but a book about comics, written as a comic book. It is a marvelous work, fascinating and engaging, but every aspect of it is a device designed to allow the reader to examine the nature of comic books.
Elektra: Assassin was far more of a culmination of everything that was being learned (and broken) in sequential storytelling up to that point. In terms of exploring that freedom visually and verbally this is a pinnacle of expression. It is a successfully dynamic, disturbing, compelling story, using archetypes to emotionally connect on many levels… I have spent so much time introducing it to people that when I wanted to write my first professional comic book review, I wrote it about Elektra: Assassin. It is the first book that I lend to friends who I love, and people who don’t appreciate it just aren’t that close to me (not because I chose to distance myself from them, but because it just works out that way. To paraphrase the old saying “Love me, love my comic books.”)
Meanwhile, outside of the world of comic book publishing, for the last three weeks an unpublished illustrated book has been the number one bestseller on Amazon , simply due to pre-ordered copies. According to the publisher, although the book won’t go on sale until June 14, “Up until this week we have done nothing to promote this book.” In fact, the only form that people have seen the book has been an emailed pdf version of it, illegally sent from friend to friend.
The Bay Citizen reported that “media outlets such as the New Yorker have begun to speculate that one of the biggest engines of its success has been booksellers and other industry folk circulating the 32-page PDF to the wider world.” and it does seem pretty clear that in this instance, the fact that people were able to read the book before buying it significantly contributed to their desire to buy it. While this isn’t always the case, it certainly does support the idea that previously unknown books can benefit from being seen for free via electronic distribution.
So once again, I’m forced to ask; Why not allow comic books (particularly great works of art which are out of print and so would otherwise go unread and unsold) to be distributed in a digital format? Perhaps comic book publishers don’t want to risk putting brick-and-mortar stores out of business by potentially losing sales to online stores… Apparently, unlike music and film distributers, comic book publishers really CARE about small stores, and unlike those other institutions, they’re going to be able to change the way that people and the internet behave and stop information from flying freely around. No, of course they aren’t. This is a fallacy. It is completely laughable in fact. (By the way, that was sarcasm, back there.)
Unfortunately, comic book publisher’s seem to want so badly to cling to the past that they’re completely unwilling to deal with the future, even as it becomes the present. And readers are losing out.
What really pisses me off the most about this is that I DON’T CARE. I have nothing to gain from being able to buy comic books digitally, this is purely a comic book fan’s outrage. I actually prefer print versions, but I want to buy people Elektra: Assassin, (because it is the greatest comic book I have ever read) and if I cannot buy it in print, I’m willing to buy it in some kind of electronic format and email them a link to download it. I really don’t care.
What I object to is being forced to think about why publisher’s won’t digitally publish their out-of-print back catalogue. Surely if it is COMPLETELY unavailable in print, they won’t ruffle any feathers by putting it out electronically, because no stores can make money from a book that DOESN’T EXIST?
I apologize for the all-caps shouting, but this is damn tedious. All I want to do is continue to love comic books and the superior form of communication and story-telling that they offer. I want go back to writing nice articles about my comic book love and how it has impacted my life, rather than being forced to have endless conversations with various people about how we can throw a damn lifeline to this industry which seems absolutely hell bent on going down.
What I have no interest at all in, is being forced to deal with a passion for a comic book which NO ONE can share with me because the apparent luddites who control comic book publishing are afraid of the internet.
Comics will continue to make their way out, just as music and film did. Do publishers really want us to start scanning in old books and posting them online for each other? Or would they prefer to do it themselves, in some more controlled way that insures that they make some money? If comic book publishers were REALLY so worried about the direct market stores, they wouldn’t make them pay for the “free” comic books on Free Comic Book Day, if they were really worried, they would give stores a way to sell digital copies of out of print comic books themselves. I would happily go into my local comic book store and click “ok” on a computer screen to download a copy of Elektra: Assassin directly to my inbox.
I’m tired of having these conversations. Elektra: Assassin is the greatest comic book I know. If you can’t find a second-hand copy, look for an illegal download. I apologize to the publishers and (even more so) to the creators, but it is important that you read it. In an instance where a book is out-of-print and unavailable as a digital download, but only available illegally, we really have no other way to read it except to commit a crime. Perhaps for every comic book act of piracy, those of us who would prefer to buy it could donate some funds to the CBLDF or the Hero Initiative? I don’t know, all I do know is that there is no excuse for having a game-changing book like Elektra: Assassin be out of print.
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