I was trading some email with my pal Brian Scot Johnson, the owner-operator of www.khepri.com about an interesting new deal he's doing. Khepri is an online comics retailer; Brian'll get you your monthly books, sure. But he's a big fan of trade paperbacks and original graphic novels, too, and thinks that's where comics' future lies.
You can see why we get along.
Anyway, he was letting me in on his latest plan, which involved getting libraries to recognize comics as a legitimate form of reading. To this end, he took out a full-color ad on the back of the July issue of a trade magazine called Today's Librarian.
Johnson said: "Today, the comic book industry is in a state of flux, redefining itself with the graphic novel (or trade paperback) format. No longer willing to accept its role as the red-headed stepchild of literature and the arts, the comics industry is looking to increase its readership by competing for your entertainment buck. Great for people with money; not-so-great for those without. And as many would-be readers may well know, 'This ain't no library, kid' is an all-too-common (and unfortunate) mantra in most comic book specialty stores. Taking that idea, then, and turning it on its head: what if this was a library, or better yet... What If Libraries Carried Comics? That's a notion I've been kicking around for a couple of years, an idea I was able to set in motion when Today's Librarian came calling, looking for advertisers."
Brian Scot Johnson obviously loves the comics. He loves the Loose Cannon, too, and sent me a few questions to answer. They're mostly a bunch of things I would never bring up myself, but I think the answers may be unvarnished and telling, so here they are:
"One of my customers," said Brian, "likens comics (the floppies) to movies (in a theatre) and trade paperbacks to DVDs. Only the best trades and DVDs are purchased for his long-term enjoyment/collection, though he still buys lots of comics (floppies that he later gives or sells away) and catches a lot of movies for his immediate gratification with his disposable income. He sees the trades/DVDs as the "long-term investment," the investment being in the quality product (oftentimes with extras), not in the "collectibility" that someone like our boy Jemas believes in. What do you think?"
I think Brian has a smart customer, there.
I should think it's obvious that I prefer my comics stories in an easily-consumed format. The trade paperback, and, increasingly, the original graphic novel, are clearly superior story delivery systems. A graphic novel gives you a story with a beginning, middle, and end. A serialized comic book is like a second appendix: the first one is an atrophied organ… what, you need another one?
In other words, no one goes to a movie theatre and watches the first thirty minutes of a movie, and then has to wait 28 days for the next part. That'd be ridiculous.
And it's ridiculous for comics.
"Last week," Brian said, "we read that you were about to'set some shit on fire.' What did you burn? Who did you fry? Maybe a day in the life of a publisher... the shit you have to go through to Open Some Eyes. Obviously, Diamond is on your side, as I got this e-mail from them on How The Coupon Works. And late in the week, you mentioned that you and Ellis were going to Kill Them All. Did you?"
Well, I think we all realize that that was a metaphor, and that usually I am a little more, shall we say, restrained than that. But sometimes you just have to vent the steam. I am a little frightened to report that that column generated the most email response I've gotten in the last six months, mostly in the "Right on; go get 'em, Lar" area. The Shit Is Starting To Come Down, in comics, and there are a whole lot of folks wondering which side they're going to end up on.
My advice? Choose sides now before the choice is made for you. The day is going to come when the only way you're going to be able to get the latest issue of Joe Casey and Frank Quitely's opus graphic novel series YOU PEOPLE SHOULD HAVE LISTENED TO ME is by going over to Joe's grease-stained corrugated cardboard refrigerator box in Silverlake and reading the parchment while he turns the pages for you. "Limited edition," my ass. "One of One" is going to be more like it.
It's my dream that the comics industry goes the other way, and that you won't be able to swing a dead cat in an airport for fear of hitting somebody reading the latest Seven Guys of Justice. But that sort of acceptance is going to take work, and the people best set up for that are too busy making comics. It's going to fall to the comics fans. Comics fans are gonna have to start getting militant about getting other people to read comics.
"Let's follow that up," said Brian. "Let's assume that the fire's set, how about Five People in Comics who won't burn? Or have set fires of their own?"
OK, let's assume all the obvious ones as givens, right? Warren Ellis, Steven Grant, Paul Levitz. I'm going to go with some folks whose work you see every day, and may not know it. And these people are saving comics with every breath they draw:
1. www.wizardworld.com editor Maureen McTigue. Does the Lord's Work on the Devil's Own Website.
2. DC Comic Marketing Guru Patty Jeres. If you see something good DC has done, Patty was in on it.
3. Diamond Comics Distributors Comics Team. These poor bastards get hit like a three dollar pinata every day they go to work, and Mark Herr, Jim Kuhoric, Schaff, Leaf, Folland, and all the rest of them still work like dogs to make sure you get the comics you do.
4. Speaking of getting you comics, how about all the good retailers? The guys who run Big Planet Comics, Comicopia, Flying Colors, Titan Comics, Zanadu, Comic Relief, Dr. No's, Atlantis Fantasyworld, Big Brain, New Dimension, and all the other world-class comics stores. Retailers literally put their money where their mouths are every month with every comic they have for sale.
5. The comic book production folks. The graphic designers, letterers, and colorists who sit staring at a Macintosh for ten hours a day, making sure you have a readable comic book. Sure, artists can't draw until writers write, but it's all moot if the production grunts don't do their jobs. From the guy who lays out the page in Quark to the gal who checks the bluelines to the Teamster who loads the boxes into the shipping container… if any one person drops the ball, you don't get a comic to read. And I'll bet you a dollar everyone except the Teamster is doing it because they love comics.
And really, when it comes right down to it, don't we all?
You can dance if you want to/You can leave your friends behind/But your friends don't dance, and if they don't dance, well, they're email@example.com
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Best comic I've read this week? Gotta go with Strangehaven #13. Reads better in the trades, all at once, but damn if those single issues aren't worth the wait. Do like I do, and buy 'em both.