Sunday, April 24, 2011

Letting Go...

So this was the weekend, the weekend I finally did something that I promised myself I would do months ago...I finally went through my comic book closet.  It took several days of shuffling boxes in and out, moving the books I'd acquired since the last time I did this (2 years ago maybe?) into their proper order, and doing the hardest part of all: letting go.

I had two R's to follow when I undertook this project: reorganize and remove.  Reorganization was easy; even with 25 long boxes of accumulated issues from the last 25 years, it really  was not as difficult as I imagined it would be since I hadn't done it in a couple years.  In fact, it was probably harder moving everything out of the way to get to the books, and then actually pulling the boxes out of the closet than it was doing the actually reorganizing.

The hardest part of this scheme of mine was following the second "R": Removal.  Any diehard comic book fanboy who has ever forced themselves to go through this process will understand why that deserves a capital "R".  To anyone looking in from the outside, those stacks pictured above are just pieces of colored paper wrapped in plastic for some neurotic reason, but to those of us for whom comic books have become a passion, it is so much more than that.

Those comics are the scrapbook of my life in so many ways.  From "Youngblood" to "Spirits of Vengeance" to "Astro City: Local Heroes" and more, those books are some indication of where I was at in my life when I (or my Dad) purchased them.  It's memories of Capital City Comics in Lansing, Daggett's Comics in Holt, or any of the numerous conventions where I raided back issue bins.  They are gifts from friends & family, items that other fanboys have needed to clear out, or thank you items for helping a shop move locations.  It's amazing the attachment you can get to "things".

It was a seriously difficult task to pull that first stack of books, even though it was "Team Youngblood", and set it into my sell pile instead of the reorganization stack.  It's not as if I'm talking about a book that shook up the industry or one that burned up the sales charts, but it's a little piece of myself that is leaving the nest.  Not exactly one of my children yet it is something I have invested time & energy into.

Think about it: 24 issues of a comic is two years of your life invested into characters & story, regardless of the quality, as well as a small dent in your pocketbook.  The money factor isn't exactly something that crossed my mind in 1992 when Image Comics broke, but in hindsight it is something that creeps into my mind as I pull out all these back issues.  And the quality of those stories as I read them now makes me wonder what on earth I was thinking at 13 years old when these books came out.  Pretty much the case for anything Extreme Studios....

Now that is not the case for every single book I've elected to part with, some of them are due to me owning the trades or hardcovers now, some of it is because I have an incomplete series or one random issue of a title, but yeah, a lot of them are due to that whole...crap....thing.

It amazes me how attached I can be to something that is bad, how difficult it can be to part with it after all these years.  But once I got started, once I really got rolling, not so difficult; I knew exactly what I needed to unload and how I wanted to do it.  Now with 3 1/2 boxes worth of comics sitting on my bedroomw floor, I kind of feel...relieved strangely enough.  It's this odd sort of....therapy isn't the right word but it's the first one that comes to mind (credit goes to Chuck Palahniuk there). 

Even though I was quite literally cleaning out my closet, I think the philosophical take on that phrase might fit a little bit too.  I don't know why, and the why may not be that important, but I know it felt like letting go.  Still there are things I couldn't let go of: Batman, X-Men, the books that I've followed since day one, THAT would be like throwing my kid out of the house.

Or maybe I'm just being a drama queen....


It's a work in progress as I add my lots to it, but if anyone is interested in what I'm unloading, here's a link to My Ebay Auctions

Friday, April 8, 2011

A Cornucopia Of Comments

So with being on the road 2 out of the last 3 weeks, and during the in-between week having my computer crash out, it has been awhile since I've had the time or ability to sit down and work on a new blog.  I've been thinking about it, pondering ideas and topics during this down time, and have decided to hit a little bit on all the subjects that have popped up in my head or in general comic-related news in the last few weeks.  So here we go....


So this year we've got "Fear Itself" from Marvel and "Flashpoint" from DC, and both are looking to be seriously ridiculous in scope for those who are interested enough, and financially solvent enough, to actually buy everything involved.  Just looking at the solicits from each company for June, these are the numbers:

Marvel June Solicits
18 Total Fear Itself Books
9 Regular Series Tie-Ins
9 Mini-Series Tie-Ins

DC June Solicits
22 Total Flashpoint Books
2 Regular Series Tie-Ins
20 Mini-Series Tie-Ins
And 1 Set of Toys (4 Figures Total)

That's just one month!  Expand that over 7 months in the case of "Fear Itself" & 5 months for "Flashpoint" and you've got a financial disaster for the consumer waiting to happen.  With DC Comics, "Flashpoint" has the potential to put their last event, "Blackest Night", to shame (BN stood at roughly 78 issues not counting the lead-in books) and "Fear Itself" will destroy the book count for Marvel's last event "Siege" (weighing in at just under 50 issues). 

Both companies of course preach that it isn't necessary to read the issues outside the core mini-series to grasp the story, that they merely flesh out the main arc and show how the events of the main book effect their respective universes.  I think any reader can agree that this NEVER ends up being the case for ANY event. "Blackest Night" was close, but it had tremendous gaps that were only filled in by the events in the "GL" and "GLC" books while most of the other tie-ins were completely inconsequential.  "Siege" seemed to accomplish this goal more than any over event I can think of, but "Civil War" and "Secret Invasion" are both prime examples of epic failure in that direction.  Everything of importance in "CW" besides the explosion in Stamford and Captain America's surrender pretty much happened in the tie-in books, and meat of the "SI" story took place in the Avengers books more so than in the mini (which just kind of dragged along until the last issues when Wasp died & Normie put a bullet in the queen's head). 

And what about those readers who have absolutely no interest in the crossover and just want to read their regular monthly book? Marvel obviously doesn't give a damn about those readers with "Fear Itself", as they didn't with "Civil War" or "Secret Invasion" and just like DC didn't seem to care during "Blackest Night".  Pretty much every book in the line was touched by those crossovers directly, and in the case of those whose regular books weren't effected, well they ended up with a mini-series of their own.  The X-Men are the poster children for this with mini's in "Civil War", "World War Hulk", and "Secret Invasion".  They escaped "Siege" with only a single issue of "New Mutants" tied in and a few issues of "Dark Wolverine", but this year with "Fear Itself", for the first time in awhile, the core title will actually be a tie-in!  Matt Fraction is writing "Fear Itself", he just got off  "Uncanny X-Men", makes sense.

I guess I appreciate what DC is doing this year with "Flashpoint" by putting all the tie-ins into their own mini-series instead of invading the core titles with this alternate reality arc.  "Booster Gold" is the only book pulled into the alt-world, but given the entire concept of Booster, and the recent "Vanishing Point" mini, it makes total sense that it would be.  Regardless I won't be buying much beyond the core mini, the Batman mini, and the Captain Cold mini, but it is nice to see an attempt at listening to the readers on that subject.  And even though they don't necessarily listen to the complaints about the scope of event books, it's hard to blame them when the readership as a whole keeps plopping down their dollar bills.

Marvel, on the other hand, will only see my money for the "Fear Itself" mini and the "UXM" tie-in issues.  In part because my interest lies strictly in the fact that Matt Fraction is writing this event, in part because of how much of a letdown the last 3 Marvel events where ("CW", "SI", and "Siege) for me, and in large part because of the sheer cost.  And that cost brings me to another topic that's been floating around in my mind...


Back in October of last year, both Marvel & DC announced they were dropping prices.  DC stated that all standard-length 32 page books would be priced at $2.99 effective January 2011 and Marvel followed suit shortly thereafter.  Marvel, apparently because "we demanded it", stated they were going to offer the first 5 mini-series of 2011 at $2.99 to which the comic world responded with a resounding "REALLY?!?!".  Now looking over the way each companies price points have evolved since the beginning of 2011, it's very clear which company listened to their fanbase and which did not.  Using the June 2011 solicits as a source once again, I only found 3 comics in the entire DC solicit that broke their $2.99 limit: one was an 80 Page Giant, and the other two were 40 issue stories (including "Flashpoint #1).  With Marvel, I gave up counting because there is absolutely no consistency.  Some monthly 32 page books are $2.99 (usually the smaller name characters like Thunderbolts & Avengers Academy), some are $3.99 (Amazing, Uncanny, Invincible Iron Man for example); some mini's are $2.99 and some are $3.99 but at least those seem to be broken up consistently based on whether or not the book is 32 or 40 pages.

Little things like this...actually no, price is not a little thing at all.  In my eyes, price is just as important as the quality of story & art.  If the price is too high, readers are less likely to buy the book regardless of how phenomenal the creative end of things may be.  The same can be said if the creative end of things is awful on a book only costing a dollar.  And Marvel, more so than DC, tends to make me feel ripped off for my dollar.  The recent Captain America #616 issue is prime example of this: big anniversary issue, $4.99 cover price, and inside.....15 pages of real story for Bucky that continues the story from last month, 15 pages for Steve to think about if he should be Cap again(which Marvel had the good sense to already spoil thus killing any suspense), and the rest: inconsequential short stories, not necessarily bad, but not worth the additional cost.   DC isn't innocent of shortchanging the core story either; the month they officially killed off their back-up stories, several books had the core story killed down to a handful of pages so the back-ups could wrap up (Streets of Gotham I am looking sternly at you), but at least the price point remained the same. 

Suffice it to say that, overall,  DC Comics has more than proven themselves to me as the fan friendly company as well as being the company with an overall higher quality of reading material.  If it wasn't for the X-Titles I buy, I might not be buying any Marvel at all.  I think my favorite quote on the price point subject came from the C2E2 convention in February where a young fan asked Eddie Berganza if DC was better than Marvel and Begranza replied with "Let's put it this way...we lowered our prices and didn't lie about it."

The issue of price & affordability leads me to another heated point of discussion amongst comic book fans, comic book retailers, and the comic book companies as a whole: digital comics & internet piracy!


Marvel does it, DC does it, Dark Horse is working on comics.  With DC, they are $0.99 a pop and at Marvel you pay a yearly, or monthly, subscription fee to read as much as you want. Dark Horse is still in the process of setting theirs up so it's unknown at this point how they will price it out.  But with the two that have it set up already, they offer a great catalogue of material to choose from; new stuff, old stuff, classic stuff, it's all there!  DC offers books from Vertigo as well as the DCU proper, Marvel digs back into old Avengers book amongst others, it's not too difficult to envision every comic either company has produced eventually being available digitally.  So if that is the case, what is it that draws people to torrent sites to get the material for free?

While I'm sure a part of it is that last word there (FREE), I speak from experience when I say that a great deal of it has to come from the other word popping up frequently in this blog: COST.  I come from a generation introduced to comic books when they were marked at $0.75, if not cheaper, and have now come to see them sold at $3-$4 each.  I feel like an old man saying this, but I remember $.80/gallon gas prices, $2.00 packs of cigarettes, and movie tickets at $5 for night shows.  The rate of inflation on these things has been asinine, with those costs tripling, if not quadrupling, over the last 20 years.  I'm not a guy very knowledgable when it comes to economics, but as a consumer, that hurts.  And as a comic book fan, it bleeds you dry in a day when it frequently feels necessary to read three different books to get a full story, when there's a line-wide crossover yearly, if not a company-wide one, and all the books run you $3 a pop at minimum.  The cost to read the whole of "Blackest Night" had to be creeping on $400, and I'm afraid to see what the numbers will be for "FI" and "FP".  These factors alone are a reason to dip into free downloads just to keep up on the books you follow monthly.

Now what about books you've never read? A series that has been critically acclaimed and you are very curious about? You want to sample it but the thought of spending another $4 on top of the $100+ you've already spent that month is just too much.  What about an older story you've been dying to read but that work was never collected or is out of print?  Hell, what about the simple fact that, in addition to comics, you've got bills or kids or whatever the case may be that also puts a drain on your finances?  Those are the things that make "piracy" seem like a wonderful idea.  Honestly there are hundreds of spectacular comics on the market, there are hundreds of abominations that soak the market as well, and it just is not feasible to purchase every book that piques your interest.  A reader has to be selective on where their dollars are spent, so unless you're Uncle Scrooge taking a swim, the number of books you buy a month is entirely dependent on your cash flow.  Same with movies ($16 bucks at noon because the only showing is IMAX!), same with music (they learned their lesson), and both industries learned their lesson on the retail end (obviously theatres have not) because the costs for a CD, DVD, or Blu-Ray are far less than they were just a couple years ago. 

The free version of Napster may have been shut down, but it taught the music industry a lesson I believe.  The movie biz has been increasingly jumping on the digital bandwagon as well with services like NetFlix, and I firmly belive the comic book industry will be forced to learn the lesson as well.  As long as prices are higher than the general public is wiling to pay, especially for a total luxury item, then people will look for ways to get their fix cheaper, or not at all.  The internet & the prolific number of file-sharing sites floating around provide fans with a way to get that fix, as well as find the impossible reads unavailable by any other means. Seriously, how the hell else would I be able to read the entire library of Midnight Sons titles & crossovers??

It's a debate that is endless because it effects so many people.  The fan cuts down on the revenue of his local comic book store because he now spends $50/month on physical books instead of $100 and downloads the other $50 worth for free because those were books he had no true emotional investment, he simply just wanted something to read.  Comic shop then orders less books, distributor makes less money so the big guys make less money so maybe the prices get bumped up to compensate for the revenue loss.  AND we start the cycle all over again.  These are assumption on my part about the way this particular wheel spins obviously, but it's something that makes sense within my little brain.  I've had this conversation with friends who run shops, and they find it hard to disagree with me knowing first hand how much this fanboy fascination of ours costs.  The only advice I have: buy the books you love, figure out the rest...

Oh, and here links to the digital services offered by Marvel, DC, and Dark Horse in case you're interested. Just click on the company names...
Think I'll wrap this up now and continue my ramblings in another blog.  So please join me next week when I rant about re-boots and when spoilers get disguised as solicits!