Frankly, we didn’t expect the $125 price tag on KRAMERS ERGOT #7 to create such a ruckus in the comments. To give a little more perspective, here’s the ENTIRE quote on the book from a profile of editor Sammy Harkham:

Last year, Harkham lured the reclusive artist to Los Angeles for a weeklong Kramers celebration at the UCLA Hammer Museum. “It was the first time he’d ever left New York state or flown in a plane,” he explains, eyes twinkling. While Kramers is legendary in comics circles and a staple of mainstream year-end “best-of” lists, Harkham is still hustling fiendishly, holding down a couple of part-time jobs to supplement a cartoonist’s income that isn’t rising quite fast enough to support himself, his wife, and their 14-week-old son. But he thinks big.

“You’ve seen that Little Nemo book?” he asks, hands spreading reflexively to encompass the famous, full-page scope of Winsor McKay’s early-20th-century newspaper strip. “Issue number seven is going to be like that. Big—big—16 by 21! Every artist gets three pages. That’s it. But with that assignment, an artist is going to make work that wouldn’t exist otherwise. I’m so excited.

“The Clowes strip in this? Mind-blowing! Mind-blowing! And it’ll never be shown anywhere else. It’s going to be expensive. It’ll cost around $60,000 to make and sell for $80. We’re going to go to Singapore and watch them print it. But if there isn’t a clunker in the book, it’ll be worth it. I’ve found that anything I find mysterious or exciting, anything really special? People always pick up on that.”

Paul O’Brien and The Beat had a brief discussion in the comments on whether KE#7 had any potential to expand the audience for comics. Paul wrote:

In all seriousness, though, I find it hard to believe that anyone is going to spend $125 on a high-end art book for their first comic. This is going to sell to people who already have a strong interest in lit-comics.

I think there’s a degree of wishful thinking in the idea that avant-garde experimentalism is going to “expand the audience” in any terribly meaningful way. The audience for this stuff is pretty minimal in any medium. At best, it makes the point that “comics aren’t just for kids” – but (a) everyone knows that, and (b) it makes that point by demonstrating that comics are also for the sort of people who go to arthouse cinemas, rather than by showing that comics are for adults in general.

We suggest that anything worthy of an art show at the UCLA Hammer Museum is expanding the audience for comics in some way — is it a “terribly meaningful way”? That’s where the argument lies.

KE #7 sounds like an eye popping, thought provoking, “mind blowing” work that is very likely to get much academic/art snob attention from a publisher that is already taken very seriously. We would argue that all of this attention adds up to the increased profile of comics as an art form, an entertainment form, and sometimes even the two together. We subscribe to what we would like to call the “Ben-Hur” theory. You need ALL the horses pulling the chariot, not just one or two.


  1. “We subscribe to what we would like to call the “Ben-Hur” theory. You need ALL the horses pulling the chariot, not just one or two.”

    Well said, well said.

  2. I agree with Paul. While it might be stellar work, a $125 price tag will probably only put the book into the hands of those individuals that are already into the genre. And then probably only a subset of that group that can easily afford dropping $125 on such a work.

    This is not something that is going to pull in the causal reader or someone that is merely satisfying a passing fancy.

    It’ll get press. It’ll get reviews. It’ll be talked about on websites. So, word will get out about this book and the expanding realm of comics. But I don’t think that it will translate into sales.

  3. “It’ll cost around $60,000 to make and sell for $80”

    Even though those number have changed, we can assume that the print run is probably still around the same. Factoring in distributors discounts and theoretical profit margins this would place the print run somewhere between 2000-5000.

    Anyone know round about how many of these will exist? I guess i’ve always figure that the runs on these books were up in the 10,000 range.

  4. I found it interesting to read more about how Harkman is printing his book. It would be fascinating to get to see an issue.

  5. I agree with Paul, too. $125 is a lot of money, especially in a bear economy with high gas prices. I like lit-comics a *lot*, way more than superheroes, and I make a pretty good yearly income. That being said, while I hope to buy this book, I doubt I will. In other words, I am the audience for this and I’m doubting I’ll purchase this. If “artsy” stuff doesn’t reach the core, it’s never going to expand the audience.

    To me, this is a lot like when Shepard Fairey started with Obey clothing. The price point was so high that only a select few could afford it. The Obey brand didn’t expand it’s audience until it became affordable. Even then, even though the Obey brand reaches more people, designer brands from indie art guys haven’t really expanded their audience in any significant way.

    I think manga remains the best bet for comics, as a whole, to expand its audience. Manga provides a large range of genres with easily accessible stories for a great price point without any of the stigma that the stereotypical comic book store type stuff brings.

  6. I’m not really concerned if it expands the audience from an economic point of view. I find the more interesting question to be whether it expands the acclaim of the artists involved. The only problem with being a “hot young artist” is that you don’t stay young forever.

    If reduced readership of KE coincides with a more economicaly accessible and younger collection of cartoonists then what is considered “avant-garde” in alternative comics itself might change. These epicenters seem to shift every decade, and like I said before this one’s coming to a close.

  7. What Eric said. And given Heidi’s $80 Amazon tip, I don’t get all the hue and cry over the price, either, unless your name is Brian Hibbs, who made a good point in the other comments thread as far as a retailer perspective.

  8. FWIW, most of the contributing artists I’ve spoken to aren’t contributing to boost their acclaim. They’re doing it because they’ve never had the opportunity to work as large as the great early-20th Century newspaper cartoonists. This is anecdotal but at least three or four cartoonists have expressed enthusiasm to me about creating work this big and seeing it reproduced as big as it’s gonna be.

  9. I’ll pay someone $5 to post digital pictures of Clowes’ pages online. It’s all I want to see and I’m not paying $80 for three pages.

  10. I don’t know why Sammy Harkham is suddenly responsible for expanding the audience of comics. I doubt many people start reading comics with Kramer’s Ergot, unless they’re yuppies who read about it in Art Forum or the New Yorker, in which case that price tag is nothing.

    Why is so many comics fans can’t stand it when a project isn’t aimed directly at them with the exact price point they demand? If you don’t like it, contact the artists and make your own book and put whatever price you want on it- hell, give it away for free if you’re so into “making the work accessible.”

  11. Just for clarity, I wasn’t arguing against the big format/price, just what I expect to happen commercially with KE. For my individual store, it’s orders of 30-40x$35 vs 1-2x$125 (plus longer term stocking being nil on the $125 version)

    I absolute support publishers/creators doing stuff in whatever format/price they like. Just some sell better than others…


  12. 10,000 copies is what one manga publisher prints for a first volume of a relatively unknown title.

    Academic presses will usually print less than 1,000 copies of a hardcover edition (much fewer if it’s just cloth on boards), and around 5,000 copies of the trade paperback.

    Part of the marketing of this is also the Out-Of-Print market. Try and find a copy of Absolute Planetary for sale. This volume will only increase in interest, as the new talent of today becomes respectable and meaningful in the years to come. (And Dan Clowes fans will want it now.) This book might become seminal to the history of Art/Lit Comics. AND the book can always be reprinted if it sells out.

    Nostalgia is fueled by individuals who have disposable income, and long for items from the past. Myself, I search for the hardcover Eclipse and Graphitti editions from the 1980s. Twenty years from now, someone might yearn for KE7.

  13. There are those who can afford a Hummer and those who are happy with a lower end car. Either way it gets you from point A to point B and we are all aiming for the same goal. If you are able to afford it, go for it. You could easily buy every single comic every week and it would run up your credit card, we select and buy what we like and what we can budget. The cover price does not really matter, what matters is how bad you want it and is this book a reflection of you and can you relate to the book.

    Books are an escape, a magical trip. At one time VHS movies used to cost almost one hundred dollars and that was more than twenty years ago. It all becomes irrelevant, if you can afford it and deem it to be a good book then it’s your money. It seems to come down to money. It’s only paper. God knows how many people burn 125.00 dollars on much more useless things.

    Limited quantities will only drive this book’s value up. It’s an investment, be it monetary or an appreciation for the art. The decision will be made either at the book store or when you click on your enter button at the checkout of any online store.

    I see this book are a suped up graphic novel. So pimp my graphic novel.

  14. If this volume is like the other volume of Kramer’s Ergot I read it will be 10% brilliant and 90% crap. So I would spend $12.50 for it.

  15. Someone might have said this already, but with all the attention this big, expensive book is already generating, some people might think:

    -I can’t afford that but,
    -I’m curious about this series now, so I’ll buy the other less expensive volumes so I can check it out.

    They might ultimately buy #7 as a result. Even if they don’t, more people will have been exposed to KE in general.

  16. Good God, I’m sorry if I am coming off like a douchebag here but I am so sick of hearing all this tripe about how Sammy’s failing miserably in “expanding the audience.” Since when was that EVER the most important factor in the creation of an artistic work? Was Stanley Brakhage “expanding the audience” for film? Was John Cage “expanding the audience” for music and sound? Was Gerhard Richter “expanding the audience” for painting? Oh, wait, I forgot, those guys were all a bunch of effete, snobby, pretentious dickweeds, right? That seems to be the perception of anything not aimed squarely at the average white middle income suburban male living in the Midwest.

    Joe Williams put it best above with his “Why is so many comics fans can’t stand it when a project isn’t aimed directly at them with the exact price point they demand?” Sammy and the rest of the contributors owe nothing to anyone. Comics buyers owe nothing to Sammy and the rest of the contributors. If you want it, buy it. If you don’t want it, don’t buy. Quit throwing stones.

  17. Also, before you jump all over me, I am not comparing the work of Sammy Harkham or any of the potential KE7 contributors to the work of Brakhage, Cage or Richter. My point was that an artist or creator has a primary responsibility to follow their own artistic vision, whatever this may be. The parallel lies only in the approach, not the aesthetic or the product.

  18. All this talk has actually made me more likely to buy the book.
    I don’t live in a large center, and my local comic shops don’t carry Kramers Ergot, but I’ve been curious about it for a while now. Even if I don’t get number 7, I’m now way more likely to get off my ass and pick up one of the cheaper back issues.
    Though I really do like “big” books.

  19. You’re not a good consumer unless you get angry about prices – that’s what really fuels the market — anger and resentment. “The people deserve — no, have a RIGHT to — stories at a price THEY are willing to pay.”

    If you just say “I wish it was less expensive” you lose out on the chance to assert and bolster your own sense of superioty over elitists who clearly DO NOT RESPECT THE NATURAL LAWS OF THE MARKET. How weird is it take take a personal affront that an object is out of your price range? What does it say about you? Is it part of the fan-boy mentality?: “I made Marvel what they are by buying their comics – how dare they go from 30 to 35 cents . . .”

    I can see getting angry about gas prices and global corporations, but a large comic book and two guys who have trouble making ends meet . . – You guys are viscious!

  20. Here’s another that doesn’t make sense: “I don’t read any art comics and wouldnt buy it at any price, but whine, whine, blah, blah . . .

  21. DAMN IT!
    the size makes the fucker shoplift proof

    not that i’d steal it

    not that a single comic book store in the area would carry a copy of Kramers anyway

  22. Jacob, just go to SPX dressed like the coolest hippest dude on the planet. That way when you lift it off the table nobody will ask any questions, they’ll just automatically assume you should have it.