ganges huizenga
Re what we love to talk about endlessly in the comments, Brian Hibbs shows up to rescue the endangered maiden pamphlet on his charger of charts. It’s an excellent essay that touches on the attention economy, the monthly payment option, and the fact that periodical sales are up in both units and dollars over the past decade. The last decade is a *bit* misleading since ten years ago we were in the comics equivalent of the Great Depression but the fact stands.

Where Hibbs makes a good point is that the tankoubon ($9.99 manga-sized paperback) model is one that is enabled because the material is already serialized in Japan. And as someone who had worked on P&Ls for traditional book publishers on the costs of making graphic novels, yes, paying a living wage page rate for something that will sell between 10-20K copies IF YOU’RE LUCKY is challenging.

Hibbs also flatters me by referencing my “satisfying chunk” theory and stating that 22 pages CAN be a satisfying chunk — it’s just that these days, it isn’t, but that is a creative problem more than anything.

Where the problem lies, I think — and perhaps this is some of my own doing — is the psychological effect of the “standard attrition” model. It is a fact that comics periodical sales on monthly titles go down on a continuing basis at rates that threaten their profitability. While the war may be a win, the individual battles all seem like “lose.” Or as a widely quoted Tom Spurgeon line from yesterday has it:

I hate to backseat drive companies because I’ve barely made like sixteen dimes from working in comic books, but at some point it seems that if well-regarded series after well-regarded series is broken on the rocks of a market that won’t respond to them, you should start to look at changing the game board to be more receptive to such series as opposed to picking up a game piece you think might work better.


I’m not sure the game board is the only problem. Editorial malaise, increasingly watered down and uninspiring “house styles,” and the tyranny of “branding” have all taken a toll on the spark of creativity that is what makes successful entertainment.

Take another look at Matt Price’s list of 2009’s best periodicals:


1.”Unwritten”
2.”Irredeemable”
3.”Superman Secret Origin”
4.”Chew”
5.”Supergirl”
6.”Incognito”
7.”Detective Comics”
8.”Resurrection”
9.”Ganges”
10. “Daredevil”


A subjective list, to be sure, but all of these titles have gotten a wide range of praise and attention, so they could be emblematic of the Class of ’09. (I know GANGES is a ringer but let’s play along.) They also exhibit a fairly significant degree of individual creator vision, or at least craft (I haven’t read SUPERGIRL but I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt). I haven’t the time right now to run all the numbers, but UNWRITTEN is up to issue 6 and selling at a level that is a big success for a Vertigo book In This Economy, (north of 15,000 copies) and CHEW has been a big success story out of left field while maintaining a still low (in the scheme of things) but rising sales level.

Of course these books are all overshadowed by events and their henchmen, but there is life in the pamphlet…WHEN ALLOWED.

Who is strangling the periodical? I would have to say, at this point, the buyers themselves, caught in a cycle of fleeting thrills. It’s like getting high huffing glue from daddy’s workbench. It’s temporary and it lasts about seven issues.

1 COMMENT

  1. Regarding “It is a fact that comics periodical sales on monthly titles go down on a continuing basis at rates that threaten their profitability”: It is true that periodical sales tend to decrease within a title — to a regular enough extent that we can say it is close to the rule for the last few decades. Excepting for specific periods where the retail base has swollen (such as the easy-credit early 1990s), issue number negatively correlates with unit sales.

    However, if this were the only thing happening, periodical sales in aggregate would have declined this decade. They haven’t. We all know some of the reasons. One is that as ongoing series gray, they’re replaced by new series that launch from a higher sales point than the departing series was at. Creator impact in all this is felt most visibly in this first factor: mobile talent shifts from ongoing concepts to new ones.

    Another part of it is that, while the total number of periodicals being offered has stayed steady or even declined as Diamond has altered its rules, the typical comic book offered is more likely to have been published by one of the larger publishers. This is why we’ve seen the 300th-place issue increase in sales: the distribution of where sales are has shifted, as seen here: http://blog.comichron.com/2009/04/changing-shape-of-top-300.html

    These two phenomena — the sales boost through rebooting/replacing and the increasing depth of major publisher offerings — have helped keep periodical sales in the DM stable or growing, so a key question in looking at the future is whether either or both of these stop working. If the curve flattens too much because launches are starting at a lower level or lines are extended too far, then, yeah, the profitability element hits a lot harder.

    This is, of course, only looking at direct market sales. But with that in particular, historically, the greatest contributing factor to how a random comic book sells — besides publisher brand name — does seem to be the number of comics shops. It’s all connected, but account growth does seem to help periodical sales disproportionately. All things being equal, a bad comic book in 1993 way outsells a good comic book in 1989 or 2009.

    As to the whole “pamphlet” terminology issue — I think we’re understood best by outsiders reading about us when we use the words they know. For 75 years, “comic book” has meant a magazine filled with comics. The consensus phrase for books filled with comics has been “graphic novels.” They are not perfectly suitable terms to insiders in either case — I personally feel “graphic novel” should only mean OGNs, but that’s increasingly a lost cause. But I don’t know that we gain a lot for own medium by offering confusion. If only a portion of our discussion circle and absolutely nobody outside it would call a comic book a “pamphlet,” that’s probably not a reason to change.

  2. John Jackson Miller said:
    “I don’t know that we gain a lot for own medium by offering confusion.”

    Confusion… and derision. “Pamphlet” is most often used as a put-down for the comics’ magazine format.

    Not that there even is a “Team Comics”– but I would hope anyone who is either working in the comics’ medium or a fan of the medium would move past the name-calling on formats. It doesn’t serve any of us well.

  3. Hey kids, I did declare a moratorium on my own use of the terms pamphlet and floppy a while ago:

    http://pwbeat.publishersweekly.com/blog/2009/03/27/onerous-possessions/

    JJM: thanks so much for clarification and analysis. YOU ARE THE MASTER. Methinks a future plan of spewing out increasingly weak products in order to make the incremental profits to stay in the black isn’t totally healthy either, and leads to the “Editorial malaise, increasingly watered down and uninspiring “house styles,” and the tyranny of “branding”” that I alluded to above.

  4. Here’s the elephant in the room, though – the sales of floppies aren’t really growing. I could be all wet here, but looking at Mr. Hibbs’s column, I understand he’s saying the sales of floppies went from 78 million in 1999 to 81 million in 2002. That’s not really growth in anything but the most literal sense – it’s stagnation. If anything, it points to the theory that the comic book market is the same aging crowd buying books every Wednesday.

    I’m not just whistling Dixie here, either. In the industry I work in, if we put out sales numbers like that, our stock would plummet because it’s not showing any kind of growth in 10 years time.

  5. And, yeah, Heidi, I agree on the weak products point. I guess I’d like to assume that everyone involved will try to do their jobs, and follow up series being ended with something that’s new and different (I’m working at doing that, myself).

    Nate, I agree that in numeric terms, yes, we haven’t picked up much at all in periodical sales. However, I expect that in your industry is like ours in that additional considerations gauge success. Those periodicals are bringing in dramatically more money — beyond the rate of inflation. (Not such a great deal for consumers, I agree — but we’re talking about stockholders looking at the bottom line.) More importantly, though, that same number of periodicals these past ten years has permitted the development of a huge revenue stream we didn’t have before — one that wouldn’t exist on remotely its present scale on OGNs alone, and one that has changed the profit model for the base periodical.

    I guess my view is that if the magazine could suddenly get people to buy bound editions of their old articles, they’d happily take selling the same number of Newsweeks in 2019 as they’re selling now. How long or how far we can count on the comics/trade dynamic to work like this, though, is definitely worth watching.

  6. Hibbs seemed to have been defending the production and marketing processes, not the products themselves. The labor involved in producing the artwork should result in a greater impact on readers, but it doesn’t, as evidenced by comics’ status as a niche industry, and the steady loss of readers from most series.

    The (superhero) comics field generally might have been moving in the wrong direction over the past several years, with all the effort to emulate movies. The content of the stories has suffered noticeably; Marvel might be forced to keep focusing on line-wide events, because there isn’t sufficient content in the individual series to support them.

    Read letters from the Marvel letterhacks in the ’70s; their comments are the same as ones that fans of SF/fantasy prose stories would make about the characters, except for the artwork-specific comments. The parallels between prose novels and comics were easy to see; a formula action-adventure paperback was as empty of content as a 22-page fight between the Hulk and someone else.

    The creators of comics might be able to justify filler on an issue-by-issue basis — two or three pages of filler in a 22-page comic isn’t terrible — but collect six issues into a TPB, and the buyer is paying for the equivalent of a complete issue that’s empty of content.

    If a person is concerned primarily about content, OGNs are inarguably the better choice for the readers and creators both. The losers are the people who can no longer publish material based on the “illusion of change” policy, because readers will demand more content for their money, and creators who can’t satisfy demands for creative, original material.

    SRS

  7. Synsidar, I took it more as Brian was saying that there were benefits involved in the production and marketing sides that have to be replaced in any successor model.

    We can have an OGN-only model. It may well have its own strengths making it worth it. But it needs to be able to address things it does not currently seem to address, including: 1) getting all creators paid while they take half a year off to work on one project, the same way prose publishers pay authors in advance; and 2) replacing the millions of dollars of unpaid advertising that repeated exposure throughout the year, on the rack and online, generates. I read that as where he was heading.

  8. John,

    I see what you’re saying now, and I see you’re saying it in context of the discussion (periodicals vs OGNs). I’m thinking more the health of the market overall. Sure, more money is being made off the same number of sales, but that’s still not growth; more money on the same number of sales is showing the market can bear higher prices. If anything, it says to me money was being left on the table 10 years ago.

  9. It would be nice to know how much of the readership of any given series is composed of casual, short-term buyers who will drop it after one-two years, versus committed fans who will buy the series indefinitely.

    I don’t think that anyone can cite the benefits involved in the monthly format without considering how the format impacts the content, and all of those effects on the content are negative.

    It’s possible that there just isn’t enough interest in superheroes as genre reading material to increase the audience significantly. Perhaps, by publishing OGNs, Marvel could create a backlist. However, the issue of upfront costs in producing OGNs isn’t an argument for the monthly format; it’s just a way of saying that the production of monthly comics is inefficient.

    SRS

  10. Nate, I agree — the way I look at it is that there WAS money left on the table, and we invented a way to get it.

    We had $320 million in periodical sales last year across all channels — comics shops, newsstands, and subscription; plus around $160 million in TPB sales in comics shops, and another $220 million in TPB sales in the mass market. In 1999, with about the same number of periodicals sold, we’re looking at $250 million or so in periodical sales, and nowhere remotely near the amount of TPB sales in either market. We didn’t have as many products, and it didn’t have as much mass-market penetration or acceptance. So as much of a third of our current revenue now didn’t exist back then — or we just didn’t have a way to get at it. So there’s some progress there.

    How much of that new TPB revenue depended on the existence of the underlying periodicals continuously publishing? I think a good deal. Manga, OGNs, and editions collecting previously existing material would have soaked up some, but for most of it, you need the new stuff. Most of the best-selling TPBs, in the DM, at least, were still collecting recent comics. We have to make sure those books still come out, one way or another.

    Synsidar, I would simply return to the benefit of the monthly I know best: the monthly makes sure the work gets done. I asked Dave Sim in 2004 whether he ever could have completed 6000 pages of Cerebus without the discipline of the monthly deadline, the lure of the monthly paycheck, and the presence of the monthly marketing boost. He said absolutely not. That’s a series where, too, I think later on, the format influence was cut down to a minimum — the story just picked up wherever it had left off.

    The “indefinite readers” question is an interesting one; I don’t think we have a good way of knowing. One clue might be from looking at the number of people who “jumped off” when some long-running series renumbered at #1 years ago; completists, who felt their job was done. It was a minority, but not inconsiderable.

  11. I can only speak for myself but it is as simple as this; Ten years ago, I could count on buying and reading at least 10 good comic books a month. Now, if we get six good graphic novels a year, I think that’s a good year. Actually, three good graphic novels in a year is a good year.

  12. >> Confusion… and derision. “Pamphlet” is most often used as a put-down for the comics’ magazine format.>>

    Of course, “comic book” has been a widely used derisive term, too, but we haven’t scrapped it either, though many people have proposed doing so over the years.

    I’ll stand up for the term “pamphlet” — I think it’s a useful and specific term to have, when needed.

    To my eye, comic books come in many formats — trade paperbacks, hardcovers, mini-comics, treasury editions, digests, magazine-sized comics and more, including that traditional-sized American comic book format that no one has a specific name for, because whenever anyone does, they’re accused of putting down the format rather than describing it.

    In making a format distinction, I’m unwilling to use the term “comic book” for that format, because they’re all comic books, so that term doesn’t distinguish among the formats. I’m unwilling to say “traditional-sized American comic book” either, because it’s a mouthful. “Pamphlet” works, for me — it’s not 100% accurate, but then neither is “magazine,” for issues of SAVAGE SWORD and such. But we understand what it means.

    And if you do manage to eliminate the term, the people who want to deride the format will deride it using whatever term remains. Call it pamphlet, call it single, call it floppy, call it Bernard, the people who don’t like the format will use whatever term is at hand derisively. The issue there isn’t that “pamphlet” is inherently derisive, but that there are people who want to deride the format, and that won’t change soon — and it certainly won’t change by eliminating a word.

    I say let people who want to deride the format do so — better they use a term the average person doesn’t recognize than a term they do.

    But I’ll agree with John that it’s not a terribly useful term when trying to communicate with outsiders. It’s useful in inside-baseball discussions, where one may want to draw a distinction between a digest and a magazine and a TPB and a….a…pamphlet. On that score, though, I’ll note that the term “pamphlet” doesn’t appear in Brian’s column, but Heidi uses it twice here, despite her moratorium.

    Let’s kick the crap out of her.

    kdb

  13. This interview with Steve Gerber has interesting perspectives on the differences between film and comics, and perceptions of the audiences for comics:

    What you’re saying is that comic books don’t operate on the same principle that the entire magazine publishing industry does.

    Only because it’s never been tried. Only because no attempt has ever been made to reach that audience. Only because they never believed it was possible until Heavy Metal and the Kiss magazine. What Marvel discovered with the Kiss book is that it is possible, even for them. We sold out damn near a half-million copies of that magazine. It was a virtual sell-out. The sales figures must be somewhere near 80 percent. It actually went back to press for a second printing after the initial quarter-million sold out. There has not been a sale on a comic book like that in recent history, and that’s including the so-called “phenomena” like Howard #1. Percentages of that kind have been non-existent in comics since the 1940s. Initially, no one at Marvel believed we could price a magazine — other than the tabloid size — at $1.50 and sell it. It was felt that comics had no business dealing with rock ‘n’ roll personalities. It was felt that the most efficient way to promote comic books was to advertise them in other comic books — house ads.

    All of those theories were proven wrong by that Kiss book. There were a number of reasons why it succeeded: First and foremost, the fact that a group who sold seven or eight million records had its logo reproduced on the cover. In addition, we traded off for advertising space in three or four of the major rock magazines. Aucoin Management bought a full-page color ad in Circus magazine to promote the book. We did a lot of advance publicity on it. Kiss’s public relations people were turning out copy on it. The Bob Greene article, I suspect, helped. [Laughter.] In general, the product was marketed in an entirely different way from anything comics have ever done before. It is of interest to note that because of the Bob Greene article, not one ad for the Kiss magazine ever appeared in the Marvel line of color comics. They were so panicked and so afraid of what it would do to the “Marvel image” that they dropped the ads from the comics.

    If Marvel executives don’t try to expand their definition of the audience for comics, they won’t know who they can sell comics to.

    I seem to recall statements in old issues of TCJ that the readership of Marvel titles turned over by 80 percent in about two years, but that was decades ago.

    I don’t see a reason to assume that a writer’s page rate for an OGN should be the same as his page rate for monthly comics. It’s hard to look at the dialogue-only comics Marvel is publishing now, look back at issues from the ’70s when writers were doing three to four series per month, with many more words per issue, and conclude that the page rate should be higher. Even if the writers spend time dictating how some panels should be drawn, those efforts are lost on readers who complain about a comic book taking ten minutes or less to read.

    Setting aside the question of page rates for other creators and production people, I’d think that the distribution costs and other overhead expenses would be lower if the company published primarily OGNs.

    SRS

  14. To a librarian, a “pamphlet” is anything that can’t stand up on a shelf and must go in a long box of all things.

    “Pamphlet” comes from the Greek pamphilos “loved by all,” from pan– “all” + philos “loving, dear.” How is that derisive?

  15. “Setting aside the question of page rates for other creators and production people, I’d think that the distribution costs and other overhead expenses would be lower if the company published primarily OGNs.”

    I’d believe that would be wrong.

    Printing costs are kept lower for operations like Marvel and DC because of the aggregate number of copies they produce — lower that aggregate and cost-per-unit increases.

    Further, cash flow would be wildly impacted.

    -B

  16. Two cents here, maybe it’s been written before but I don’t have the guts to read all that.

    I can’t follow monthlies simply because there aren’t comic book store who sells english / american comics where I live (Moscow, Russia). So yes, that’s a foreign problem but maybe it can be related to more isolated region in the USofA. I think that if big online stores could sell monthlies (and have a decent price in shipping), I would surely buy more of them.

    And then, there’s also the number of titles released. I just filled my previews order for february and, quite frankly, the Batman franchise is getting larger and larger. I will have to make some cuts.

  17. “‘Pamphlet’ comes from the Greek pamphilos “loved by all,” from pan- “all” + philos “loving, dear.” How is that derisive?”

    Well, this isn’t really germane to this conversation, but many words that are now considered derisive have etymologies that aren’t.

  18. I can only speak from my own experience, Synsidar, but I spend the same amount of time writing a comics page regardless of where it’s published, OGN or periodical. I’m sure it’s the same for the artists, colorists, and letterers.

    The trick in whatever future we evolve to is to make sure comics remain financially attractive for creators to create, for publishers to publish, for retailers to sell, and for customers to buy. We have professional writers and artists who could write or draw for anyone; they choose to work in comics because they want to, and because it’s financially worth it to them. The same is true for publishers, retailers, and readers. We’ve seen a lot of scenarios for possible futures out there — I’m expecting that the one we want is not the one best for just one party, but takes into account everyone’s needs to the extent possible.

  19. Well, this isn’t really germane to this conversation, but many words that are now considered derisive have etymologies that aren’t.

    Except that “pamphlet” isn’t considered derisive at all, except among a small segment of comic fans, which I missed the memo about. I really don’t understand how it’s offensive, or why some people have allowed it to become offensive. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, no one can make you feel inferior without your consent. If comic fans take an otherwise neutral word as an insult, then what they’re actually doing is bringing down geekdom by playing up the stereotype of weakness, over-sensitivity and poor self-esteem. I find that insulting. Thanks, fellow nerds, for making us look like nerds.

    If you believe that using the word “pamphlet” can harm comics, what does that say about your confidence in the strength of format? Does it really have any power to harm the format? Are serialized comics going to be brought down by the word “pamphlet”? REALLY?

    Here’s my word for all of it: YEESH.

  20. I can only speak from my own experience, Synsidar, but I spend the same amount of time writing a comics page regardless of where it’s published, OGN or periodical. I’m sure it’s the same for the artists, colorists, and letterers.

    I cannot believe that’s the case, when you compare the actual number of words in an issue, combined with the treatment of the characters. And the end result — spending $2.99 or $3.99 for ten minutes or less of entertainment — is not satisfying:

    But the problem is the pacing. I don’t want to say the dreaded “d” word (psst… it’s “decompression”) but there hasn’t been much progression in these first two issues. First issue sets up an intriguing revelation that Moonie has seen much better days, second issue we get a fight. That’s six bucks for two comics that can be read in just under ten minutes. There just should be more. Especially since it really does show through that Huston has a way with words to set a very dark and gritty tone. There’s just not many of them. And pretty art alone does not a great comic make. Still along for the ride right now, I just want to see more writing muscles flexed is all.

    If there’s an argument to be made for decompression, with its associated small word count, I haven’t seen it.

    SRS

  21. “Except that “pamphlet” isn’t considered derisive at all, except among a small segment of comic fans, which I missed the memo about.”

    Not sure if that’s got anything to do with anything, but oddly enough, the German term “Pamphlet” is often used in a derisive fashion, meaning something like “rag.”

    As far as I’m aware, that negative connotation doesn’t exist in English, but maybe some of it is dripping into English usage from other languages.

    Also, I’d like to add that I completely agree with Kurt Busiek, on anything he says.

  22. Some more background on “pamphlet”, which has been used derisively:

    †88 (Fowler 1965, p. 66): The introduction of the word brochure in the 19th century was probably due to misconception of the French uses. In French brochure is used where the French pamphlet (chiefly applied to scurrilous or libelous or violently controversial pamphlets) is inappropriate. The sense ‘a few leaves of printed matter stitched together’ has always belonged in English to pamphlet, though it has by the side of this general sense the special one (different from the French) ‘pamphlet bearing on some question of current interest (especially in politics or theology)’.

  23. >> Not sure if that’s got anything to do with anything, but oddly enough, the German term “Pamphlet” is often used in a derisive fashion, meaning something like “rag.” As far as I’m aware, that negative connotation doesn’t exist in English, but maybe some of it is dripping into English usage from other languages.>>

    Although “rag” is an American slang term for “magazine,” sometimes used disdainfully, sometimes affectionately.

    In this case, however, “pamphlet” is taken to be equivalent to “leaflet,” which is usually a tri-folded single piece of paper, used as a giveaway for promo purposes, so people who see that in it object that it’s diminishing the trad US comics package by equating it to an educational giveaway on VD or the throwaway bumf that tells you how to use your new padlock.

    But that’s just one meaning of the word, which encompasses quite a bit more — including the trad US comics package. It’s not inherently disdainful; it’s used that way by some, and no-disdainfully by others. But then, so is “comic book.”

    >> Also, I’d like to add that I completely agree with Kurt Busiek, on anything he says.>>

    Aw, you’re just scared I’ll declare a crap-kicking fatwa on you, too.

    kdb

  24. In this case, however, “pamphlet” is taken to be equivalent to “leaflet,” which is usually a tri-folded single piece of paper, used as a giveaway for promo purposes, so people who see that in it object that it’s diminishing the trad US comics package by equating it to an educational giveaway on VD or the throwaway bumf that tells you how to use your new padlock.

    Yet that’s what comic books were until 20 years ago. That’s what made them so damned valuable in the 90s. Then that value led to fetishism of the format, which has led to everyone holding onto them, which has… diminished their rarity and their collectible value.

    At least the value of the art and storytelling of comic books can’t be diminished by formats and terminology.

  25. RJT Says:

    12/19/09 at 10:46 am
    “‘Pamphlet’ comes from the Greek pamphilos “loved by all,” from pan- “all” + philos “loving, dear.” How is that derisive?”

    “Well, this isn’t really germane to this conversation, but many words that are now considered derisive have etymologies that aren’t.”

    That just proves people are easily lead and don’t bother to understand anything about language anymore. It all starts with people telling you that something is a “bad word” and it snowballs from there until everyone has to navigate a minefield of language that could have changed since the last time you spoke.

    Do you think that if you somehow prevented a racist from using non-P.C. terms that he would magically stop being a racist? Not bloody likely.

    People need to get a lot smarter overall, and yes, I’m including myself.

    Call it a “sequential art narrative”, and as a bully, I would just say “hey nerd, gimme that stupid sequential art narrative” then rip it from your hands, roll it up, and beat you with it just the same. Terminology isn’t the problem; people are.

    We are way to obsessed with this crap, and it’s because people buy into it so easily. Don’t call it the Estate Tax call it the Death Tax… nobody will vote for that. Don’t call it the Screw the Homosexuals Over Act, call it the Defense of Marriage Act. Don’t call it the We Don’t Trust You So We Should Be Able To Spy On You Without Your Knowledge Act call it the Patriot Act so that everyone who votes against it (if there are such brave souls out there) can be made to feel Unpatriotic and potentially be labeled as such if anyone finds out how they voted. It’s all lies and alibis, and the masses go along with it like the lemmings they mostly are. It doesn’t matter how you dress it up, it is what it is. When you do that you’re either trying to lie to yourself or lie to others.

    I don’t believe that any of those terms are derisive or dressed up. They’re just a variety of slang terms for what was once simply a comic book (a term derived from being a book of reprints of newspaper comic strips). It has evolved since then and the terminology has changed with it, but words are just words unless you give them power over you. The term pamphlet isn’t derisive; YOU find the term derisive so you let it insult you whenever you read it. Change your outlook, and your problem is solved.

    There are no bad words.

  26. After writing that fairly long post, I read this which I think is the most salient point of the discussion.

    “maija Says:

    At least the value of the art and storytelling of comic books can’t be diminished by formats and terminology. ”

    Here, here!

  27. Fun Gnome wrote:
    “The term pamphlet isn’t derisive; YOU find the term derisive so you let it insult you whenever you read it. Change your outlook, and your problem is solved.

    There are no bad words. ”

    I hope you are using the royal YOU because I really don’t have an issue with the term pamphlet. I was just pointing out that words change, so posting the etymology of the word doesn’t really mean squat.
    I mean, who would be offended by being compared to a bundle of sticks, right?

  28. Regarding decompression: I realize not everyone thinks this way, but if a story is compelling, I don’t care how fast it reads. If it’s dull, I don’t care if it’s so packed full of words that it takes all day to read. (Actually, that just prolongs the agony.) I keep mentioning ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN in these threads, but it retold the eleven-page origin of Spider-Man over the course of five issues — and they were great. When a story isn’t interesting, that’s when people start complaining about decompression. But what they really mean, most of them, is that the comic sucks.

    Oh, and count me down against “pamphlet.” It’s a silly word and yes, it’s usually used derisively in this field. I don’t see what etymology really has to do with it…words develop different connotations over time.

  29. More on topic: Thanks to John Jackson Miller for the historical perspective. It’s remarkably hard to convince people that overall periodical sales are not declining. But the fact is that there’s a remarkably stable pattern of comic book unit sales over the past twenty-five years, with the exception of the speculator boom. And over that time, the trade paperback market has basically been created, and grown immensely. Look around at magazines, TV, or book publishing; comics may be a smaller industry, and it’s certainly got problems, but it looks pretty healthy to me.

  30. Regarding decompression: I realize not everyone thinks this way, but if a story is compelling, I don’t care how fast it reads. If it’s dull, I don’t care if it’s so packed full of words that it takes all day to read.

    When people specifically compare the cost of entertainment to the time spent enjoying it, they’re doing so because they feel cheated. When someone buys a full-price movie ticket for a film that runs, say, 79 minutes, he’ll often feel cheated.

    A reviewer might not mention the reading time repeatedly because he’ll be complaining about an industry standard, but it’s safe to assume that if the density of the content doesn’t change, he’ll have the same reaction.

    The major problems with the missing content are the absence of subplots, plot complexity, and characterization. Narration and thoughts are how a writer goes about fleshing out characters; dialogue alone can’t do that. Having multiple subplots in a series allows a writer to avoid filler by allocating space to subplots as needed. There wasn’t nearly the problem with filler (sequences of wordless panels; splash pages; pointless chit-chat) decades ago that there is now; the problem exists because a writer is developing a simple plot and doing nothing else.

    The Knaufs did a decent job on IRON MAN, but the material was thin and relied on technobabble to convey a sense of weight. The result, after reading their work, was the equivalent of watching a Syfy movie. Diverting, while you’re watching it, but you’ve forgotten about it an hour later.

    One could argue that there wasn’t any point in retelling Spider-Man’s origin. That’s background material.

    For comparative purposes, I’d refer people to Englehart’s AVENGERS. During the issues from #105-#149, minus #136, #145-#146, plus three giant issues, he developed the Scarlet Witch-Vision romance all the way to marriage, told half of the Avengers-Defenders War, introduced Mantis and told her story, including her origin, had the Avengers participate in Marvell’s battle against Thanos, revealed the Vision’s origin, had Wanda learn witchcraft, had Moondragon and the Beast join the team, introduced Patsy Walker, had her become a novice heroine and resolve her dispute with her ex-husband, had Hawkeye decide to leave the team twice, had the Two-Gun Kid so impressed by the Avengers that he decided to time travel to the future, had Thor decide that he, as a god, wasn’t suited to battle alongside humans, told the stories of Rama-Tut ant Immortus, and had Kang battle the Avengers three times, with frustration resulting in suicide.

    The description of the content is incomplete; the villains for individual issue aren’t listed, for example.

    Then, when you look at Bendis’s NEW AVENGERS, MIGHTY AVENGERS, etc. — no subplots or character development at all. All there is is plot. The heroes against a supposedly deranged Scarlet Witch. The heroes against the Raft inmates. The heroes against the Savage Land mutates. The heroes against the Collective. The New Avengers against the Mighty Avengers. Heroes against (fill in the blank). Whatever development of characters there was through dialogue, as was the case with Hawkeye, Echo, and Spider-Woman, was false, insignificant, or both.

    The difference in content is massive, the equivalent of multiple long-form prose stories versus story summaries or screenplays with elaborate descriptions of the scenes.

    At least some of the loss of readership is due to readers feeling cheated. They have a right to feel cheated.

    BTW, I read a bunch of ongoing series and miniseries — DOCTOR VOODOO, Ms. MARVEL, DARK, MIGHTY, and NEW AVENGERS, INVINCIBLE IRON MAN, GoTG, UXM, AXM, STRANGE, but most of them are rarely useful as examples of excellent or terrible storytelling.

    SRS

  31. JJM: “I can only speak from my own experience, Synsidar, but I spend the same amount of time writing a comics page regardless of where it’s published, OGN or periodical. I’m sure it’s the same for the artists, colorists, and letterers.”

    Synsidar: “I cannot believe that’s the case, when you compare the actual number of words in an issue, combined with the treatment of the characters.”

    Again, I’m speaking from my experience behind the scenes. I have here my script for an 88-page OGN; the word count is identical to my usual for four 22-page comics scripts, and it took the same amount of time in my schedule. I didn’t change up my panel count or dialogue density, so it would’ve taken the artists and others the same amount of time.

    However, I think your larger point may be that modern 22-page comics take less time to read than those of earlier years, in which case I can back you up firmly. I did a study in Comics Buyer’s Guide #1595 where we actually counted panels, word balloons, and words. The average counts of all have gone down since the 1960s, for a variety of reasons (ranging from the smaller original art page size to the near-elimination of the thought balloon). Of course, every creator and every story varies — and as that study was at great pains to point out, verbosity does not equal quality! It was strictly a look at how long comics took to read, and how that had, in general, changed.

  32. Synsidar, you are arguing against a storytelling method, not against a format. Bendis’ tradepaperbacks, which he is writing for in the first place, have the same decompressed stories as the monthly, just more of it. For the bookstore buying public, they are OGNs because they were written for that format in the first place.

    But that does not mean that the monthly is dead. It actually has nothing to do with monthlies although one could make the argument that decompressed storytelling works better in the collected form than it does in 22 page increments. But decompressed storytelling will not be the fad it is now in ten years. It too will pass.

    Also, one other element that has been missing in this whole discussion is the added revenue stream of movie options. What all the research JJM and Hibbs have provided has made me less pessimistic about our stores. Our industry isn’t shrinking.

  33. Synsidar, you are arguing against a storytelling method, not against a format.

    You’d have to be familiar with Bendis’s NEW AVENGERS to know that what he’s done doesn’t even qualify for the “storytelling” label, since essential elements are missing. He’s routinely used characters without identifying them and/or describing them. Yelena Belova, for example, appears in NA #6 as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, and is badly burned in a fight. A.I.M. agents ask her if she wants revenge. She does, so she appears next in NA ANNUAL #1 with the powers of a Super-Adaptoid, fights the NAers, loses, and is killed by her A.I.M. controllers. That’s it. Not even minimal characterization. She could have been anyone wounded in a fight.

    Just having characters behave and talk in certain ways (thug, hero) doesn’t make them more than skeletal characters. But that’s all Bendis does with them. If you’ve read interviews, he hardly does anything more than talk about characters’ roles in a plot. Backgrounds and development aren’t needed, supposedly.

    If all an issue has is a thin plot, and there are problems with the plot (discontinuities, mischaracterization, scientific illiteracy), the reader winds up with nothing for his money. That’s happened with practically every “Avengers” storyline, from “Avengers Disassembled” to the present.

    No one can point to a single “Avengers” storyline that works, in terms of technique, because there aren’t any. You say I’m arguing against a method, not a format, but when the two are inseparable, there’s no difference. When a story has nothing but plot, the number of words hardly matters, because the dialogue is mere filler or only serves to advance the plot. The words are valuable only when they’re used to do essential other things.

    SRS

  34. “I was just pointing out that words change, so posting the etymology of the word doesn’t really mean squat.
    I mean, who would be offended by being compared to a bundle of sticks, right?”

    Word’s don’t change. People just decide to use words differently, and that’s not always a bad or good thing. However, most people don’t realize that it’s not the word that they dislike it’s the intent of the person using that word that is offensive. Words are just words, but people treat them like triggers or alarms and react accordingly instead of listening to context or searching tone and facial expressions for indication of intent which leads to problems (which can’t be done online, unfortunately). People are the problem not the words.

    No, a person shouldn’t be offended by being given the same name as a bundle of sticks or a cigarette because not everyone is using it derisively. However, because it is so often used derisively by people with malice in their hearts it has become a trigger for those it is directed toward. I’m saying it doesn’t matter what word they use because the intent will still be the same, and I’m also saying people who hear these trigger words shouldn’t automatically assume the other person is using it with the same intent to which the offended party has become accustomed.

    Simiarly, I’d like to watch a movie made before 1960 and not think everyone in it is a homosexual because they keep talking about how happy they are.

    SRS: “Then, when you look at Bendis’s NEW AVENGERS, MIGHTY AVENGERS, etc. — no subplots or character development at all. All there is is plot. … Heroes against (fill in the blank). Whatever development of characters there was through dialogue, as was the case with Hawkeye, Echo, and Spider-Woman, was false, insignificant, or both.”

    In another comment thread, didn’t you just mention how fandom just wants the comics where there’s a bunch of fighting anyway or was that someone else? Also, it’s clear to me that character development is mostly on hold because the existing audience doesn’t want anything to change so where is there room for story? Big changes in both Captain America and Batman have mostly been ignored because everyone knows things will soon be back to status quo anyway because things don’t change. Marvel and DC seem to be ruled by a sense of urgency because they don’t want to face the inevitable roll back of interest and resulting drop in sales so they keep pumping out stuff that’s meant to pull you in and keep you saying “okay, what’s next!?” If they slow it down to throw in some character-building moments, people might think it’s a good time to drop the book because nothing is happening.

    I’m not making excuses for it. I’m saying there’s a reason for it. There’s a difference. If the audience wasn’t ruled by urgency as well, then books with good stories (like The Brave and the Bold) would be the highest selling books instead of the ones with style over substance.

  35. “Word’s don’t change. People just decide to use words differently, and that’s not always a bad or good thing. ”

    This has literally nothing to do with the discussion of monthly comics, but words do change. When people decide to use them differently, the words change. They’re not tiny little diamonds that human beings find in the wild, they are made my human beings and mean whatever human beings decide they mean. There are at least a dozen words you use in your post that you are using in the “correct” modern meaning, but that are wildly different than those words’ etymologies would indicate.
    And I think it’s sweet how you believe in the intrinsic innocence of words, but there are some words that are offensive to certain people regardless of what the speaker holds in his heart.
    That having been said, I’m not including pamphlet into that category. While it’s not a word that I would use, it’s not really a word that offends me. Nor is what someone calls a comic book something that would offend me anyway.

  36. “words do change. When people decide to use them differently, the words change.”

    You are incorrect. People can use them however they want and that may one day inform the accepted usage of the word, but that doesn’t change the word or what it means. Slang is slang and using a word as a slang term does nothing to change its meaning.

    “They’re not tiny little diamonds that human beings find in the wild, they are made my human beings and mean whatever human beings decide they mean.”

    Since human beings created language, that makes what you said here somewhat correct. However, that doesn’t mean you can just go around changing what words mean because you want to. You can change them for yourself, but then you won’t be speaking the same language as the rest of us.

    “There are at least a dozen words you use in your post that you are using in the “correct” modern meaning, but that are wildly different than those words’ etymologies would indicate.”

    Such as? There’s a difference between changing what a word means and using it in a different way from its literal meaning. I’m saying it’s a problem when people stop searching for the meaning and intent behind these words and just make assumptions about meaning and intent from the just the use of that word. I’m not against slang or updating language, but the words themselves are not inherently good or bad nor do they have any intent separate from that of the person saying them.

    “And I think it’s sweet how you believe in the intrinsic innocence of words, but there are some words that are offensive to certain people regardless of what the speaker holds in his heart.”

    I don’t doubt it, but it’s not the fault of the words that this person feels offended. Maybe you’re too busy trying to condescend to me and my views that you cannot see the truth of what I said. That’s okay. It just makes you like most people.

    “That having been said, I’m not including pamphlet into that category. While it’s not a word that I would use, it’s not really a word that offends me.”

    …and then you turn around and basically agree with me. Being offended has everything to do with how you and the other party view the words being used and HOW they’re being used. If you’re not offended by the word, then you’re not bothered even if the other person is actually using it derisively because you’re not giving that word the power that the other person is trying to say it has. Similarly, if you find the word offensive and the other person doesn’t mean it that way, you’ve given that word the power to affect you psychologically which is a power it doesn’t have on its own and you’ve ascribed intent to the person using the word for no reason other than the fact that they used the word. That’s just ridiculous, and people should be made aware of it. That’s why I’ve bothered to put in the effort.

    It’s a comic book and a floppy and a pamphlet and a magazine and a single and so on, and none of them are inherently derisive. Because no words are.

  37. “You are incorrect. People can use them however they want and that may one day inform the accepted usage of the word, but that doesn’t change the word or what it means.”

    That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. And by dumb, of course I mean “silent, unable to speak.”

  38. The mental laziness of the readership when it comes to reading monthly comics has to be one of the major reasons for wishing for OGNs. Even if the writers were minimally inventive, the stories would have to stand by themselves — a writer couldn’t end one with “To be continued” — so, given competent writers and editors, the worst that a reader would get would be formula fiction, good hero vs. evil villain, and he might get inventive fantasies.

    A couple more comments re stories with only plots:

    In the current DARK AVENGERS (#10-#12) storyline, Bendis wrote the Molecule Man as a near duplicate of the Scarlet Witch, with a similar derangement, the same imaginary companions to converse with, and the same ability to alter reality. In DA #12, he decided to give the Sentry the same power — as the Sentry said, “I can control the molecules of my world. That’s how I do what I do.” So, there are now three Bendis characters, two deranged, one schizophrenic, who can all alter reality.

    What is a person supposed to make of that? Is that inventiveness beyond the capacity of mere humans to understand, or is that material written by someone who doesn’t know how to develop characters, doesn’t know how to write fantasy fiction generally, and decided that if he gives characters the power to alter reality, they can do really neat, weird shit that doesn’t have to be explained?

    Bendis might be an extreme example of failing to describe or develop characters, but I suspect that practically all dialogue-only comics will have similar problems, since doing scenes solely for the purpose of having characters describe themselves is obviously clumsy exposition. Doing comparisons of issues written in the “old” and “new” styles in various series would, I expect, result in the “old” issues describing characters in much more detail. Writers using the “new” style will rely heavily on stock genre characters whose motives and actions don’t need to be explained.

    SRS

  39. John Jackson Miller said:

    “We can have an OGN-only model. It may well have its own strengths making it worth it. But it needs to be able to address things it does not currently seem to address, including: 1) getting all creators paid while they take half a year off to work on one project, the same way prose publishers pay authors in advance; and 2) […]”

    But that’s not really how “prose publishers” work, especially for new authors. The advance is not intended to be a “living wage”; it’s an advance payment on the estimated royalties, based on the book’s expected sales. For a genre novel, such as science fiction or fantasy, the advance will almost certainly not be enough to live on while writing the next book (the average advance for a newer SF/F author is about $5-10K, even less for a first novel). Unless you are already famous for some other reason, or are Stephenie Meyer, making a living off of prose fiction generally requires building up a backlist of books that have steady sales, and thus bring in a steady stream of royalties. While you are building up that backlist, you need a day job, or a fat saving account.

    Page rates and up-front payment are a legacy of comic’s history as work for hire. As more traditional book publishers get into graphic novels, it’s not likely that they will embrace the idea. Corporate-owned properties will probably remain different, but OGNs are likely to end up on the prose model of token advances and royalties paid if and when the book takes off. Obviously that puts more of a strain on the creators, but it also (hopefully) means publishers will be more willing to experiment with what gets published.