The Middle Ground #4: Size Matters, Or So I'm Told

My latest random comics obsession: Comics that don't look like comics.

Okay, that needs some unpacking. While I grew up, like most people of my nationality and age, with things like The Beano and Whizzer and Chips and 2000AD - comics printed cheaply and, for the most part (at least when I was a kid) in black and white - somewhere along the way, my definition of what a comic looked like became, well, the American monthly comic. The dimensions of your average Uncanny X-Men, and in full color. I can remember, back when I first started collecting American comics, feeling like they were too small, but even then thinking that there was something great about that, something that made them more purely comic-y. And, as I got older, that idea has stuck with me for some reason: That comics are 32 page stapled magazines measuring 6 ⅝" × 10 ¼", and they're in full color.

Of course, that's entirely ridiculous, even if Wikipedia seems to want to support my prejudice. A comic book can look like anything its creator wants it to look like, after all; as long as it has comics inside, it can be the size of Kramer's Ergot #7 or that flier about gardening you got last time you went to Fred Meyer's (Too much personal experience, you say? Noooooooo, never). I know this to be true in my head, even if I still think of things like, say Eddie Campbell's Alec comics - Some of the greatest comics ever made, in my potentially hyperbolic opinion - as somehow "unusual" or "different" from normal.

(It took me an embarrassingly long time to get over a prejudice about manga, purely because of the format; now, the size and length is actually something I prefer to US monthlies, but it honestly took Scott Pilgrim to take me there. I probably shouldn't admit that in public.)

Mind you, it's not just me who apparently feels that way: The direct market is set up in such a way that supports books that look like your average Marvel or DC comics, because they make up the majority of the market, and are easier to stock, display and store. Something like, say, Kevin Huizenga's Ganges may be one of the best comics out there right now, but as much as the larger pages suit the work, they do the book no favors in finding an audience, purely because retailers are more likely to decide that the hassle/reward ratio in displaying it doesn't work out for them. But... but... some comics just aren't supposed to be that shape. Or size. But how do you convince everyone else that that's true?

(This train of thought all started upon my umpteenth re-read of Darwyn Cooke's IDW release The Man With The Getaway Face - which works as much as anything because of its larger size and use of limited palette - and recent read of the Drawn & Quarterly release of Philippe Dupuy's Haunted, which - content-wise - looks personal and honest in a way that "mainstream" comics rarely if ever manage, in case you're wondering. I don't have any answers, short of "Convince Marvel or DC, and let's face it, it'd probably be the more experimental DC, to release more books of different dimensions - the Zuda books and Can't Get No, as well as Wednesday Comics, have demonstrated some flexibility here already - and use their importance to retailers to influence a new openness industry-wide to alternative formats," but that'd never happen. You people have better brains than me. What do you think?)

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