Whose side are you on? No really. Retailers, readers or publishers/creators? The news of Civil War #4’s lateness, Marvel’s resultant line rescheduling and apologies/explanations from various members of the creative team split the internet in…several pieces yesterday, as a perfect storm of all the issues facing periodical comics came together in one great fell swoop of internet chatter that culminated with Bryan Hitch suggesting internet posters go out and lose their virginity. Truly, it was a day that would be long remembered by all.
It was a day of venting, spewing and foaming, but it did raise many issues that speak to the VERY CORE of today’s comic book business, so we’re going to have a go at it.
Brian Hibbs took no prisoners at Shiloh:
There have been (and continue to be) a number of very high profile, spectacularly late comics lately, and it needs to S-T-O-P. Stop fucking soliciting things that aren’t far enough along the creation process to have a CHANCE of shipping. This isn’t Marvel-exclusive, by any means — how is it even POSSIBLE that ALL-STAR BATMAN & ROBIN #5 was originally solicited for April ’06, then rescheduled for July ’06, and now they’re telling us NO-FUCKING-VEMBER for it. How can that be?
I mean, I wasn’t the only person who laughed (defensively, in pain and fear) when they announced Adam Hughes on ALL-STAR WONDER WOMAN, right? I mean, why not retitle the whole ALL-STAR line as the ALL-LATE line?
This shit needs to stop, and it needs to stop now. We don’t need more late comics. We don’t need any more ULTIMATE HULK VS WOLVERINE #3 or DAREDEVIL FATHER #6. We don’t need the core books of the universe lines, like WONDER WOMAN or JUSTICE LEAGUE moving to 6 week schedules because the creators can’t hack monthly. No, damn it, 9 issues a year is NOT acceptable on what has to be a monthly book, I don’t care what pedigree the talent has.
Also representing the retailer, MacGuffin took a stand at Antietam:
I really thought I said everything I had to say about this yesterday, but I continue to see rants across the internet about how unprofessional and irresponsible “big name” creators are, as if that is the reason for this delay. The one single, solitary reason for Marvel’s need to delay 2/3 of their publishing schedule for the rest of the year is poor planning.
And, sadly, they’re right. I’ll bet 99% of retailers across the world will just tuck their sacks, hang their heads and keep ordering these books at the same levels. And the readers will continue to buy them whenever they come out because it’s an addiction, you want to see the ending, you HAVE to know what happens. As long as no one makes a stand or sends a message to them, the publishers will continue to do this and get away with it.
Meanwhile, retailers across the country are forced to come up with lame excuses and shoulder shrugs when the customers want their books. Then we get to watch people, money in hand, walk out of our stores and not come back…they lose interest or worse, they get angry and stop reading comics altogether. Money lost. Opportunity gone.
And then there’s Gettysburg, Tom Brevoort’s interview at Newsarama, but that’s going to get its very own post except for one or two soundbites. A few issues came up over and over again, so we’re going to break it down by category.
Reader rage: Reader reaction on the web, anyway, was pretty much evenly split between the “You go too far, Marvel!” camp and the “Mark and Steve, we understand.” In other words, “Good” and “On time” fought to a draw. We stand by our observations yesterday that fans who rant and rave about dropping this book because they can’t stand lateness any more rarely do so. The books they are ranting and raving about are usually selling well. UNDERWORLD — nobody rants and raves about that, because nobody buys it. Yes, readers complained when INFINITE CRISIS had “Divers Hand” art towards the end, but they kept on buying it… or at least the RETAILERS DID.
Retailer Rage: This is a crowd that knows how to rage. A few people have pointed out that the healthy sales figures on books with big delays refer to “Sell-in” not “Sell Through” which is a very good point, but the comics shop owner IS the customer of the Diamond direct market system. Of course there will be fan resentment and anger towards CIVIL WAR #4 when it comes out. And casual readers — as if a multi part crossover involving dozens of books COULD have casual readers — will drift away in the meantime. But on the day Civil War #4 does ship, people will hear about the titanic death contained within and the shocking surprises and slowly, slowly…quietly…they will drift over and…and…
We’ll that’s our prediction, any way.
Marvel Stands by its Men: Marvel is being pilloried for poor planning, and it’s hard to argue with that, but they are making a stand for a book that holds up in trade format. Brevoort makes that clear with a quote that had many comics retailers aghast:
…these days you simply have to factor in the eventual trade paperback or hardcover collections, as they’ve become a significant part of the revenue stream. As Bryan Hitch pointed out correctly, nobody today really remembers the four-month wait between Dark Knight Returns #2 and #3 — heck, most of the people reading this likely first read that story as a collected edition. And that’s because the work is strong, and has stood the test of time. It wasn’t compromised simply to meet the monthly schedule, and as a result, DC and the retailers will be able to sell it forever. I think that’s the model for the future.
The whole infrastructure of comic book retailing is changing, and I think what you’re starting to see is the beginning of the movement away from a monthly magazine publishing model over to something more akin to a book publishing model. This is very distressing to a lot of people who’ve grown up with the monthly model as a bedrock concept. But ever since we retreated almost wholly to the Direct Market in terms of the basic comic book product, there’s no compelling reason for the monthly release schedule outside of the need for retailers to have a predictable cash-flow that allows them to keep their doors open.
Can this be Tom Brevoort, last scion of the race of Continuity Editors, foretelling the Death of the Pamphlet? Or at least, the Supremacy of the Graphic Novel? Brevoort makes it pretty clear that the decision to stick with McNiven was to keep the quality of the book up, and to increase the desirability of the eventual trade. It’s another gamble on whether the bad reactions to the rescheduling will eventually be overcome by a fine comic book tale that will be read for years to come…we haven’t read CIVIL WAR so we wouldn’t be able to guess.
It’s all about the cash flow: The one undeniable loser in all this is retailer cash flow. Some store owners claim they will lose low five figures of revenue because of delayed product and reduced output for such strong sellers as CAPTAIN AMERICA. Is this over reacting, or legitimate cause for concern? Time will tell.
The Watchmen/Dark Knight card: Frankly, this is the one that annoys The Beat. Every time someone is late they say “But so was Watchmen! So was Dark Knight!” So was CAMELOT 3000, and that was a fun book but it wasn’t one of the 100 greatest novels of the last century or the most influential superhero comic of the modern era. If you want to be judged by the standards of Alan Moore and Frank Miller, well, I think you are going to come up a bit short.
Vast line-changing crossover epics that CHANGE EVERYTHING are a fact of life in today’s market. In the case of publicly-held Marvel, they are part of the company’s responsibility to the shareholders. But as Brevoort’s line above alludes to, we live in an “on demand” world. The consumers who say they want it good, not Wednesday are reflecting that. Yes, Marvel got into this pickle by having to put out a Summer Event no matter what. If the Summer Event was crappy, the readers would say so, too. In the end, it’s just feeding a need for change, and vast line-crossing epics.
Wednesday is irrelevant in a world of Tivos. Serial fiction, regularly produced, is a fine thing, a desirable thing. But that too, seems to be becoming increasingly irrelevant.
If you are really incensed by what Marvel has done, don’t buy more Marvel comics. Go try something from Dark Horse or Image or Tokyopop or Viz or Top Shelf or Fantagraphics or D&Q. There’s plenty of good stuff available right this very minute.