It seems that as DC and Marvel move towards universe-wide story arcs tying in an increasing number of individual titles, they aren’t stopping to think how these things should be collected. DC made a tacit admission of that with their Final Crisis correction.
Should the direct market contract, more people will be looking to either the TPBs or the Internet for their comics. Now maybe reading the serials online and in parallel on a weekly basis will keep this sloppy treatment of crossover collected editions going, but having read both Final Crisis and Secret Invasion as an individual mini-series in one sitting to approximate the reading of a TPB, I can assure you the book crowd is not going glom on what ends up being the truncated version forever.
Speaking of Allen, his previous entry in the series covering webcomics, yielded a particularly cranky response from Spurge:
I intensely disliked this essay from Todd Allen on monetizing webcomics. It presumes or asserts a lot of things that I think aren’t true. I could hash some of those out, but I’m not sure that should be up to me. I’d suggest the bigger danger in the piece is that it just sort of failes to meet what should be the minimum standard of expectations for such articles at this point in the on-line comic’s development. Jeremiads about a coming storm may have worked in 2002, but today’s essays demand specifics. If you’re suggesting a whole new model for players to endorse based on a current model or series of same, shouldn’t there be some figures available about who is making money, how many of these people there are, and how they’re doing it? Without specifics, what we get is less of a cogent argument and more of a late-night rant at the hotel bar. I think we may be better off with a full night’s sleep.
Behind-the-scenes time: Allen’s three-part essay began life as a column for PWCW but after some discussion between Todd, Calvin Reid and myself, we thought it would be better suited to run as a column on Todd’s site. This was partly due to the length but also, I felt, due to the speculative nature of the first part of the piece. It’s certainly thought provoking (or just provoking, in Tom Spurgeon’s case) but might have more weight when coming from PW than it would as a blog posting. (Ah yes, the “Authoritative source” strikes again.) I still feel that way, but I don’t think Tom’s response is any better. I agree that we need concrete examples, but to deny that This Is The Way It Works Now is ostrich like. Neither Todd or Tom have done a totally convincing case of painting an accurate picture of The Way Things Work — but even though I to this day have no clue why I get a shock when I stick a fork in an electric outlet, I know there is such a thing as electricity. Ben Franklin is coming to comics, and he’s got a kite.
Earlier today I linked to an accusatory essay by Percy Carey in which he said most comics companies “would rather go out of business than make some money.” Some people call this attitude “taking the high ground,” but it’s true that the comics industry has had a lack of vision for many years, or else vision coupled with an extreme lack of funds.
For instance, Eric Reynolds digs up a gem of an interview with D&Q’s Chris Oliveros from Destroy All Comics, a zine published by Jeff Levine in 1996:
Q: Do you think it’s possible that there could be more work in the future where the artist could sit and draw for two years, and release the entire story, or do you think just the way the industry is set up, and with history on the side of the periodical nature of comics…
Oliveros: I think the periodical approach is a good thing. In order for comics to be released in book form, where an author would take two or three or five years to complete this novel, the medium would have to attain this sort of popularity you have in general fiction, where you have fifty or a hundred thousand readers, and your best-sellers have five hundred thousand readers, where because you have this guaranteed income, you can get this advance from a publisher of, I don’t know fifty or one hundred thousand dollars, and then you can afford to work on just your own project for a couple years. That obviously will never come to be in comics, so I think, for better or worse we’re left with this set-up we have here, where the work is gradually being serialized, which in turn allows the author to collect a royalty on those issues. Without that, comics just wouldn’t exist. Whether you like it or not, it allows these works to exist, and it allows the author to make some kind of living while the story is being produced.
Emphasis mine. But to 2009 and D&Q’s Associate Publisher Peggy Burns is being interviewed just today at Robot 6 regarding D&Q canceling some of their critically acclaimed pamphlets.:
How much of a hindrance are these new policies? How much of an impact do you think they’ll ultimately have on your bottom line?
It’s not a hindrance. It’s business; about ten times a day we face business decisions that make us reflect what we are doing. Choosing what kind of paper to print on, whether or not to overnight a press request, everything is a business decision that affects the bottom line. My whole day could be one big hindrance. Really, the minimums were more of a wake-up call that the medium has profoundly changed to not include the alt pamphlet.
Oliveros is clearly one of the most vision filled published in the industry when it comes to publishing some of the greatest comics of all time (Tomine, Seth, Barry, Modan,) and a paragon of taking the high road, but 13 years ago, he wasn’t into the vision thing. It was impossible for him to visualize the medium he’d devoted his life to being popular and speaking to a wider range of people to the point where a business model he dreamed of would be a reality. To be fair to Oliveros, we all felt the same way. Or rather, we all WISHED for a world where cartoonists could just be paid to draw great comics, but we also wished for world peace and green cars and so on.
I dunno why we’ve always had such a gloomy outlook. Look at the name of the zine DESTROY ALL COMICS. Carey’s outlook isn’t a giant leap forward, though. (For background, Carey is a rapper, known as MF Grimm, who was paralyzed after a gang shooting and wrote about it in the GN SENTENCES, so it is fair to say he has experience in a few industries under his belt.)
Maybe the fact that most people in comics would rather run things their own way than sell out is a GOOD thing. Isn’t it possible that the way we all do this for love is a strength rather than a weakness? I’d like to think so. I’ve been offered a couple of chances to sell out in my career and though I curse myself as I breakfast on yet another Ryvita crispbread dipped in tofu spread, I don’t really regret it. I like Ryvita and I like doing things my own way.
To link all this together, even after a morning reading the smartest commentators in the business, we’re no closer to figuring it out than we were before we cracked open the Ryvita crispbreads. I guess we’ll have to keep muddling along, doing amazing things along the way. As the Oliveros quote above shows, no one has any clue where we’ll end up, and that’s half the fun.