Pipeline, Issue #493


It was, indeed, a horribly busy weekend. And I say that without having played a single video game. Honest engine.

So I pulled this column out of mothballs. It's something I started toying with in June, mostly for later use as a fill-in column while I was away in San Diego. That never happened, and the column lay dormant and half-finished on the Pipeline Message Board since then. What better time to bring it back than now, when pressed for time and a topic?

Remember -- any dated references come from the fact this was written at the very beginning of the summer.

For some reason, I gave thought to books of comics criticism recently. It wasn't too long ago that we saw a mini-explosion of books collecting the works of on-line comics columnists. As I recall, Warren Ellis'collection of his CBR column, "Come In Alone," led the pack. Larry Young -- who published that book -- followed up with his own TRUE FACTS compilation, ripped from the pages of the late Savant web site. Pop Image even collected a book's worth of interviews, reviews, and critiques. Steven Grant has a couple of eBooks compiling his columns from here on CBR.

Once upon a time, Krause printed a compilation of Peter David's BUT I DIGRESS column, but they never followed up with a second, for whatever reason. Mark Evanier's CBG column also has seen print, in the form of three books from TwoMorrows. OK, neither of those are on-line columnists, but both operate popular well-trafficked blogs today. Does that count?

Other than that? Nothing. At a time where there are more web sites, reviewers, critiquers, and podcasters than there are fans, you'd think you'd see more dead wood compilations. There's an audience for this stuff somewhere, right?


It's tricky. For starters, there's the matter of all the source material being available on-line for free already. With a powerful and easy-to-use search tool and archive set-up, the web sites are often easier to parse through.

The counter-argument to that, though, is that people are often willing to pay for dead wood versions of on-line material. Sometimes, it's justeasier to use. Some tech manuals have on-line counterparts, but it's often easier to deal with a book next to your keyboard than a website in another window on your screen.

I think we've already seen a number of examples of material being given away free to induce people to buy more on the printed page, or stamped CD/DVD. Even the normally conservative DC has begun publishing the first issues of a number of their Vertigo titles as free comics on-line.

A growing number of fiction writers serialize their novels as podcasts to larger audiences, and still make a relatively good amount of money on the print publication of the book afterwards.

Easy availability of songs on-line leads to greater CD sales for many bands.

Giving away software and applications on-line can often lead users to buy the CD or DVD form, often for the advantage of having the manual available as a book instead of a PDF file on their desktop.

In other words, I reject the notion that book version of comic columns are automatically dead in the water because all their source material is available for free on-line already.

I think a bigger problem is the matter of timeliness. Who wants to read a book of reviews of single issues of comics a year or two after they've been out? Many comics columnists receive their hits as the basis for conversation starters, or instant book recommendations. If Book A is coming out this Wednesday, an early review by Columnist B could lead Reader C to pick up a copy of the book based on that good review. After that, the review is meaningless. Unless you're Pauline Kael -- and she's not reviewing comics right now -- the style of the review is rarely a selling point. It's a means to an end. I know I'm not witty enough to keep your attention for my review of CIVIL WAR #1 a month from now, let alone a year or two. Ten years from now, there might be some historical interest in seeing how the review holds up in light of all that has changed since then. But right now? It's purely disposable entertainment.

You know what I'd like to see a compilation of? Dave's Long Box. For those coming in late, Dave rips into books in his collection and points out the silliness, the foibles, the groan-inducingly silly villains, trends of the day, and other interesting points of the comic that neither you nor I have probably thought about lately. Each review is profusely illustrated with scans of the comic and -- therein lies the rub. I can't imagine Marvel or DC offering up permission for all the scans to appear in book form. I suppose you could claim fair use and make a case of it, but what publisher would want to risk that? It would be much easier to get permission from the publisher first, who likely wouldn't want to authorize your playful jibes at their books, even if they are long out of print and often quickly forgotten. And, really, who do you contact these days for permission to use characters from, say, the Ultraverse?

How about a collection of the best of Mike Sterling's Progressive Ruin blog? A book from the perspective of a comic shop owner with a good sense of humor would be a welcomed addition to my bookshelf. It would be a shame to lose his hilarious looks at the weirdest stuff in PREVIEWS every month, though, if image permissions became an issue.

I'm fairly sure that a straight-up collection of reviews won't do it, unless they come from a specific perspective and have a strong hook. I could slap together some of what I consider my best columns and throw it into a book, but I don't think it would fill a void that someone would pay to have filled. And my family isn't large enough to cover the costs of printing such a thing.

So what would a successful book need?

  • A unique point of view
  • An entertaining writing style
  • A connection with a specific audience
  • New material - generated with intent for a book?

The more I think of it, the more I think that the next book about comics written from a comic columnist's point of view needs to come from someone of my generation. I see more and more of it rising to the surface on message boards and blogs and columns. Look at Robert Kirkman. While his current CBR column isn't anything that would make sense collected as a book, I think his point of view and his generational look at things is right in line with a large population of fandom that remembers cutting its teeth on the early Image Comics, the pre-Image Marvel books, and maybe even the Saturday morning X-Men cartoon. We're the post-GI JOE comic book commercial generation, but the pre-graphic novel revolution generation. What we've learned and what we remember should fill books, don'tcha think?

Plus, the perspective of that generation is sure to generate controversy. We're the types that could write a chapter on why Rob Liefeld's art hooked us once upon a time. Or why comics made before computer coloring look so strange. Or why newsprint had to die.

Great, now I'm starting to think that I should write a book.

The point is, I'd like to see more books written about comics from a modern point of view. They don't have to be of historical interest or works of historical journalism. I want more opinions, more views from outside the conventional wisdom, and something more familiar to me. So far, the only book that I can think of that comes close to that is TwoMorrow's THE DARK AGE, covering the grim and grittiness of the immediate post-WATCHMEN and Image Comics generation. It's a series of interviews with creators regarding a specific time period and style of books. It crosses the span between journalistic effort and opinion piece beautifully, I think. Being a series of interviews, though, it lacks that one coherent voice covering all topics. It's close, though. But it's already been done.

I want to see what comes next. I want a publisher to step up to the plate and give me something that I specifically want to read.

I'm greedy like that.


To celebrate last week's announcement of the TELLOS hardcover collection, I wanted to point you towards past TELLOS columns I've written:

PREVIEWS is released this week, and I imagine my spare holiday weekend free time will be spent perusing it for this column next week. Have a happy Turkey Day, America! Have a great Thursday to everyone else!

The Pipeline Podcast returns tonight, but the Chris Eliopoulos interview has been delayed to next, for reasons having nothing to do with the subject. I ran out of time to edit it. I hope to get it to you next week, instead.

Be my friend? This offer is only good if you're an actual person, not a comic book character or business. Thanks!

My blog, Various and Sundry is still updating daily, and the Nintendo Wii is a big topic of interest.

You can e-mail me your comments on this column, or post them for all the world to see and respond to over on the Pipeline Message Board.

More than 700 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically.

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