THE NEXT BIG THING
Know what this is?
It's Radio Free Larry.
It seems every six months or so, I find I'm introducing myself to a whole new set of cats, and I'm running out of cute and entertaining ways to do it. This time, let's leave it at this: I'm Larry Young. I write the ASTRONAUTS IN TROUBLE family of graphic novels, as well as "The Bod" for Image Comics' February release DOUBLE IMAGE. I'm the Minister of Propaganda for one of the best comic stores in the country, Comix Experience. I'm the co-publisher of AiT/Planet Lar (www.ait-planetlar.com), the folks who've brought you CHANNEL ZERO and are serving up Warren Ellis' NIGHT ORBIT and his COME IN ALONE compendium, as well as Steven Grant's return to WHISPER. We do all of the fulfillment and distribution of our product line that Diamond doesn't do first.
So that's writing, publishing, and distribution and fulfillment taken care of, and a few hours a week behind a counter at a retail shop. Everything in comics from concept to commerce; I have an idea and four months later I'm giving you change from your twenty and putting a graphic novel in your hands.
So I see some things along the way, and Jonah Weiland is holding the antenna to broadcast Radio Free Larry.
But there's a monkey in the business, because I don't have to worry about playing nice. I don't go out of my way to piss people off, but I worry a little less than some do about stepped-upon toes. I don't have any corporate masters, so I don't mind stripping the paint off of things to show you what I think is really going on.
I'm a loose cannon.
One of the things you run into in the sort of media-saturated world we live in today is the New Expert. The New Expert gained life again, reanimated from the steenkin' corpse of the Know-it-All, right around the time the phrase "hanging chad" became as prevalent as "paper or plastic?" and people who haven't read a newspaper in five years became accredited scholars in Constitutional law overnight.
Folks who I've never had a conversation with about anything other than Stevie Winwood's decline after he left Traffic, or whether or not Iron Man could really take Thor in a fair fight (what with Iron Man's power being limited only by its energy source, but Thor is like, y'know, a GOD), were soon telling me exactly HOW the Twelfth Amendment altered Article II, Section I of the Constitution beyond their ability to actually articulate rationally.
You know what I'm talking about; it seems there's always some hot-button topic, some new outrage that has the pundits punditting and the finger-waggers wagging their fingers, and it seems it doesn't really matter to those guys what they say as long as they weigh in with their opinions on whatever it is that everyone else is yammering on about.
You'll not find that sort of thing here.
It matters to ME what I say about comics. I've loved the art form from before I could read, and I've been following the business ever since I realized making comics was a job you could actually HAVE, as opposed to having some sort of magical funny-book delivery system put 'em on the racks down at the drug store.
You're not going to get Woodward-and-Bernstein here, but I won't blow smoke up your ass.
That may be as close to a mission statement as you'll get from me about this column.
Now, I dunno if you all noticed this, but in the US, the ol' economy is slowing down. The Fed took the unprecedented and unscheduled move to drop interest rates .5% to combat the slowing economy. Making it cheaper to borrow money, the big brains figure, will have the folks lining up outside the bank. Of course, they won't be looking to buy that new Jet-Ski, they'll be trying to get a third mortgage on their living quarters, but still. Helping hand from Uncle Sam.
The bubble has burst on the dot-commies; tens of thousands of I-workers, e-traders, and code monkeys have become unemployed. This hasn't really hit the National Unemployment Rate yet, as the ratio of new Starbuck's kiosks opening up to failed dot-coms closing down has largely remained at par. Wonder why that dude with the soul patch is so surly when he hands over your venti latte in the morning? He's the guy whose burn rate on his venture capital was a little faster than he had thought. So tip the poor bastard well.
And, of course, the anticipation is that everything's grinding down slower than it's taking DC to release The Invisibles as trades; the stock market is well below last year's highs. Consumer confidence is in the crapper; early reports from the retail sector have holiday shopping totals much, much lower than expected.
Which means everyone's freaking out; consumers and businesses are hanging on to their well-earned dimes and quarters and entrenching against the impending down-turn.
This hearkens back to the economic upheaval of the Eighties and the first appearance of The Dazzler.
I can almost hear you all saying, "Wait; what? I was with him there, until that last bit."
It's kind of a running joke with me and my friends that if some new thing the kids are into in the real world finally shows up in comics, the fad's been over for years, and the comics industry just didn't get the hipster memo.
I first noticed this with the introduction of The Dazzler, disco powers in full effect; but depending on when you started reading comics, it might have been when Robin and Kid Flash started saying "groovy" in the first Teen Titans run or when that break-dancing superhero Vibe showed up in the Justice League.
When the "next big thing" finally permeates the awareness of the guys making decisions at the House of Corporate Comics, the chances are pretty high that the apex of whatever-it-is' popularity has been reached at least six months before.
Which brings us to the guy running Marvel. Bill Jemas. Don't know the guy. Heard he's from Topps. SOMEBODY over there had enough sense to wave bags of money at Axel Alonso and Stuart Moore, so there's THAT. There might be some interesting things coming from Marvel editorially, creatively. I've got my eye on it.
But this guy Jemas. Yes, I understand there are business decisions reached that outsiders can't fathom. Yes, I understand that there are stockholders to answer to; yes, I understand a monstrous debt that's poised over every decision like 250 million Swords of Damocles. Yes, I understand how easy it is to be a Monday-morning quarterback.
Here's what I DON'T understand.
Marvel's said they're printing to order on the Ultimate books. No overprint. Once they're gone, they're gone.
Now, it's easy to see that they think the demand for these books will be such that kids will be selling 'em on eBay for $20 each the day it comes out. It's easy to see that these early announcements are geared to frightening retailers into increasing initial orders in order to meet a demand that Marvel is telling them they should perceive. That's cool; I've seen some of the world and how it works, and if retailers fall for that, it's their store.
Ya can't blame Marvel for trying to increase orders; I don't even blame them for marketing comics as a manufactured collectible…
…but, you know…
…disco's been dead so long it's got house music parodies. You can buy Jim Lee X-MEN and "Death of Superman"s and DOCTOR SOLAR #10s in any quarter box in any part of the country.
It's not 1986. It's not 1993.
Looks like Jemas thinks the next big thing will be spending money on comics-as-collectibles, like it was back THEN… but even Todd MacFarlane isn't spending his discretionary income on baseballs anymore. Comics-as-collectibles is as dead as disco, pet rocks, and Beanie Babies put together.
No one buys comics now "as an investment," yet that's what it looks like what Marvel's executive team is banking on. It looks like Marvel is catering to an audience that isn't around anymore, and is too busy trying to find a PlayStation 2 to buy than to worry about what's going on with Spider-Man.
Stuart Moore is over there. And Axel Alonso. Those guys have good instincts. I bet if they can keep their heads down, do their jobs, get the good folks over there producing entertaining stories in the excellent medium which is comics, it won't be collecting comic books, like Jemas thinks…
…it'll be READING those comic books...
…that'll be the Next Big Thing.
Email about this column should be sent to email@example.com. My website, currently (some might wag INTERMINABLY) undergoing an update, is http://www.ait-planetlar.com. You can let me know what's on your mind at Loose Cannon Message Board or read some pithy bon mots, including, I'm sure, some "Dear Sir, You Cur"-level responses to the very column you've just read.