Wow, so here we are in the midst of yet another wave of internet fan rage over Marvel’s Civil War. Boy howdy, sure didn’t see THAT coming.
Yes, I read it. No, I didn’t particularly care for it. I think this issue is going to be the jumping-off point for a lot of us who were on the fence about it….
…no, wait. That’s not actually what I think is going to happen at all.
I’ll explain, but we’ll have to wander a little before we get there. As usual.
Like many of you, I usually stop in at the comics shop on Wednesday. My comics shop is the downtown Seattle Zanadu, on 3rd Avenue near Macy’s. Nice place. Nice people. They’ve donated a lot of stuff to my students and they actually rack our class-project anthology books out in new comics along with the others — you can usually find “Doodle Inc.” in the D’s, right after Deadman. Because they have been so kind to me and the kids, I always try to give them my business… though to be honest, I’d probably go there anyway, because they’re the best in town. They’ve got it all, indies, mainstream, manga, trades, you name it. An exemplary funnybook emporium, and they’ve got the Eisner to prove it.
I don’t really NEED to go in on Wednesdays, because I have a reserve box, and I think the contract says I only have to clear it once a month or once every six weeks or something. I just like stopping in. It’s on my way to school and I enjoy saying hello to Howard and Emily who run the place (both of whom always inquire after my students) and anyway, I like browsing the shelves during the little downtown layover I have between buses. It’s pleasant. A break in the middle of a busy week. Recreational.
So this Wednesday I ambleÂ in as usual, and asÂ I’m browsing in the back, Howard catches my eye. “I’m sorry, we didn’t get all of our books this week, if you wanted to come back we have more coming in later.”
I waved it off. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll take what you’ve got and pick up the rest next week when I come in. It’s fiction, it’s not like it’s going to go stale or spoil or something.”
Howard smiled, a little wryly. “Actually for us it’s EXACTLY like that.”
“Well, yeah… I mean, Marvel really threw you guys under a bus with this Civil War thing, but I figured you’d pick it all back up…” I stopped because Howard was grimly shaking his head.
“No, no.” Howard sighed. “I mean, yeah, there was that, but this is different. We didn’t get all of our shipment from Diamond. It’s coming in tomorrow but we’ll take a hit.”
“Really?” I was honestly surprised. “I mean, we’re talking, what, a day? People can’t wait a day?”
Howard shrugged. “People come in for their books on Wednesday and if we don’t have them they won’t wait, they just go to another store, and there you go, that’s a sale we don’t get.”
“Unreal.” Now it was my turn to shake my head. “There’s something completely broken about this system. And we all know it, everyone knows it…”
“Absolutely, everyone knows it,” Howard agreed.
“And yet no one does anything,” we finished, almost in unison.
We laughed, I bought my books (everything was there as far as I could tell — apparently somebody’d made a mad dash to the sister store up by the University of Washington to pick up the shortfall) and I went on to school to teach my class.
But it’s been bothering me all week, and the more I think about it, the more annoyed I get.
Because, really, there’s something seriously screwed up about the way we do this. I love New Comics Day as much as anyone, but I don’t jitter and freak out like a junkie needing a fix if the books are late. And that’s exactly how we act, like junkies. Those are the kind of tantrums Howard has to deal with, the same desperation, the same everything. It’s an addiction. Every Wednesday the comics store is packed with desperate, tweaking fans needing the dealer to hook them up.
There’s a certain kind of fun to be had in the serialized reading experience, the cliffhanger rhythm, the anticipatory build. I understand that. What I don’t understand is the part where we readers have a tantrum and go nuts if our recreational, entertainment, non-essential needs are not met. Long ago, the alternative to shipping late was a reprint or a fill-in and that REALLY used to make fans crazy mad. I’ve seen it both ways and believe me, late is better.
What a great many people seem to conveniently forget is that most of the acknowledged modern classics in comics originally shipped late.
Sometimes humongously late. The last issues of both Dark Knight and Watchmen were way behind. Miracleman was plagued with various late issues and one reprint fill-in during its original run. Sandman was occasionally late.
Certainly it didn’t hurt any of those works and we all still enjoyed them. As a general rule, the reason given was some variation of: we wanted the original creators, the guys you all fell in love with, to complete it at the pace they needed to in order to do it right.
And this is the same reason Marvel gave for Civil War‘s lateness, as I recall. Civil War‘s not Watchmen, God knows, but the reason’s just as valid. (Now it’s here and you all hate it. Bet you feel stupid now, lateness whiners.)
Look, you can’t have it both ways. Either comics are capital-A art, a creative expression of the people involved and thus valuable because of that unique artistic voice — or they’re not. If they’re not, if they’re just crap, why are you so upset when they don’t show? And if they are intrinsically valuable, they’re still valuable whenever they get there.
Really the issue isn’t irresponsible creators or incompetent publishers or even bumbling distributors. It seems to me that the real issue is that fans are junkies who’d rather blame everything on their dealer than get their act together and go to rehab.
I hate to keep beating this drum — well, actually, I don’t, but I apologize if you’re tired of hearing it — but you know what neatly solves this problem? Forgetting completely about being magazine publishers and being book publishers instead. The indies already understand this and conduct themselves accordingly. By and large they never tried to be rigidly-scheduled periodicals. Undergrounds and indie comics show up whenever they show up, the old stuff’s racked right there with the new, you can re-order older books from a backlist… they are books, not magazines,Â in everything but name. And they have more cost-efficient press runs and keep making money even after they’re not ‘new’ any more.
I love going into a comics store and seeing what’s new. But I don’t go into shuddering withdrawals if I happen to drop by and there’s nothing new in my reserve box. For me that’s a good day to nose around and see if there’s something unfamiliar to me out on the shelf that’s worth a look. Found a lot of cool books that way. (Howard enjoys that coping method, too.) It’s relaxed. It’s recreational. Which is the point, right? To have fun?
We’re getting there. There’s a lot more people “waiting for the trade” than there used to be. But — and this goes back to what I started with, and what our other Greg was wondering — Civil War will continue to be a success despite the fact that the latest installment was incredibly late and then pissed everyone off when it got there. We’ll hate it, we’ll post angry screeds on the internet and complain to each other at cons, but really it will otherwise be business as usual.
That’s what I think is going to happen. Because we’re junkies and that’s our fix, and the rhythm of addiction and habit is damnably hard to break. Especially if it’s overlaid with obsessive-compulsive collector’s mania, which is a whole OTHER dysfunctional-fan phenomenon that I don’t feel like dissecting today. Just talking about the addiction part was depressing enough.
It’s possible to break that addictive cycle, though, and I wish more of us would. In the long run it’s healthier for us, it’s healthier for retailers like Howard, and it’s even healthier for comics and capital-A art.
See you next week.
Postscript: Hey, here’s a great book that I stumbled across just browsing and I can’t recommend it enough.
ACTOR COMICS PRESENTS, the benefit book from the Hero Initiative. This is a terrific anthology book that has contributors from across the entire spectrum of the industry, Stan Lee to Joseph Linsner to Paul Dini to Steve Rude and many more, all to benefit the Hero Initiative. It’s a great cause, helping out comics people in need (they were right there front and center last week with a check for Lea Hernandez, for example) and hey, 152 pages of awesome comics for ten dollars. Take a break from crabbing about how Marvel or DC or whoever screwed you this week and go look at our industry really shine as they do a Nice Thing. Good comics for a good cause, what’s not to love? If your store doesn’t stock it, have a tantrum at them over THAT, not some dumbass issue of Civil War, and then get online and go hereÂ to get your own copy.
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