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Price Bumps and Backups

By now, everyone knows that prices of most of DC’s and Marvel’s comics are going up from $3 to $4 — a fairly significant increase, especially during a bad economy. DC, at least, is trying to do something to soften the blow for readers — they’re bringing back the backup feature. There will be more pages per issue, with an extra, shorter story after the regular story.

So far, it looks like Blue Beetle will appear in the back of “Booster Gold,” Manhunter in “Batman: Streets of Gotham,” the Question in “Detective Comics,” the Metal Men in “Doom Patrol,” and Ravager in “Teen Titans.” Black Canary and Captain Atom may be picking up backup features in other comics.

On the bright side, DC is going with characters who already had enthusiastic fan bases, which is going to be appealing to fans who were unhappy with the cancellations of “Blue Beetle” and “Manhunter” or who wish popular but little-used characters like Renee Montoya had a bit more exposure.

But on the other paw, the main features will probably end up getting shortened to make space. Creators who are used to telling their stories with 22 pages may have to get everything done in 18 pages or less.

And of course, a big issue is whether backup stories can succeed. While a lot of DC’s heroes got their starts as backup characters, comics that have backup stories in them are not always very popular — they were accepted and common in the Golden and Silver Ages, but since then, they haven’t tended to be popular with readers.

At any rate, DC deserves a gold star for trying to make the price increase a bit more palatable for cash-strapped readers. Marvel has ended up looking like the bad guy here — first, they increased their prices before DC did (though the increase was probably inevitable for both companies — and don’t be surprised when both companies eventually increase prices on all their books, instead of just a few), and second, they didn’t offer anything extra to along with the increase — no extra pages or backups, just an extra buck out of readers’ wallets.

So whatcha think? Are the price boosts a good idea? Will backup stories make you more likely to accept the increased costs?

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Comics and the Economy

In case you ain’t noticed yet, the economy is pretty darned awful right now.

Over a half-million people lost their jobs in November, with expectations that a similar number will lose their jobs every month for a while. A few million more people are going to lose their jobs when the automakers declare bankruptcy, including car dealers, auto parts manufacturers, and, well, pretty much everyone living in Michigan and the northern midwest — and no matter how you feel about the automakers and their employees, that’s going to make things pretty awful for a huge number of people. And the government has finally decided that, despite everyone previously insisting, nope, nope, not in a recession yet, we’ve actually been officially in a recession since last December. Thanks, guys, glad you finally noticed. Hope those of us who are now job-hunting haven’t inconvenienced you too much.

So, if I may be so crude, if not shallow, where does this leave the comics industry?

Probably not anywhere good.

Book publishers are facing some pretty severe cuts, as are media companies in general. Heck, I’m even reading that there’s a chance that some large cities may actually lose their daily newspapers, thanks to hard times in the publishing biz. And if all those other companies are in trouble — many of them making way, way more than the entire comics industry makes every year — you’d be a sucker not to expect some nasty, nasty times on the way for the comics world. We’ve already seen an increase in the number of low-selling books getting cancelled, and speculation is running high that Marvel and DC will soon be raising the prices of their books up to four smackeroos each; if the economy continues to tank, how long will comics publishers be able to rely on readers continuing to spend their increasingly-tight leisure income on any comic books? Are we approaching the days when the only comics being published will be Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man? Or do even those mainstays have a future in this grim economy?

I sure don’t want to be one of those gloom-and-doom forecasters, because I’ve sure got no training in economics or finance. After all, the comic book was born during the Great Depression, and that suggests that the generally low-cost escapism offered by comics could be something that’d survive during a bad economy. Of course, paper is a lot more expensive now than it was back then…

But at any rate, if you are, for some reason, mad enough to think that investing in comics is the perfect way to get you through the economic downturn, could you please cut back on your liquor intake? Unless you already own Action Comics #1, Detective Comics #27, Amazing Fantasy #15, Marvel Comics #1, and two or three other extremely valuable comics, you won’t actually make much money collecting comics. It takes decades for a comic to get really valuable, and the most valuable ones are all from before the end of World War II, when all the paper drives meant that a lot of comics got pulped for the war effort, driving up the value of the ones that were left.

In other words, if you buy a copy of Action #1 today, it’ll cost you over $400,000, and it probably won’t increase in value very much over the next few years. And if you buy a new comic today, no matter who the artist or writer is, no matter what it’s about, no matter what gimmick may be decorating the cover, it may never be worth more than the cover price.

Besides, has it really been so long since the 1990s that people have forgotten the speculator boom-and-bust that almost killed off the comics biz? Let’s please not start that stuff up again, okay?

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Okay, obviously, the blog is waaaay messed-up. Everyone decided to move the A-J’s blogs to a new server and didn’t remember the first and most important rule about moving to new servers: Moving to a new server always makes stuff blow up.

So this blog is on hiatus, possibly until next week, possibly ’til after that. Have patience, I’ll be back sooner or later, I promise.

‘Til then, y’all go out and read some comics, and prepare ye for my inevitable return.

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Comics on your Cell Phone?

Yes, comics on your cell phone!

The thing that amazes me the most about this story… is that it took so long for anyone to think of it.

Sean Demory realized a long-held dream of becoming a published comic book writer when “Thunder Road,” a post-apocalyptic adventure he developed with artist Steven Sanders, was released.

“I’ve been plugging away and pitching things for 15-20 years,” Demory said. “This is the first one that landed in fertile soil.”

But don’t look for the tales of Merritt and his buddies on the shelves of a comic book store or even the Internet. “Thunder Road” is the first comic book released in the U.S. exclusively on a cell phone, part of a lineup of mobile comic books offered by Kansas City-based uClick.

So you can get music on your cell phone, you can get weather, news, Internet, e-mail, radio broadcasts, video games, stocks, television shows, movies, YouTube, cameras, camcorders, and even (gasp!) telephone calls… and it took this long for somebody to say, “Wow, hey, we should stick some comics on these things!”

The comics companies aren’t even trying that hard to jump onto the bandwagon. As the article I linked to states, so far, they’ve just got some no-name comics and some out-of-print stuff like “Bone” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” Can’t we at least get something current, like “Mary Worth”?!

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Defective Comics

Where Things Went Wrong?

Valerie D’Orazio says a lot of stuff I agree with here. I don’t think it’s possible to doubt that the comics that a lot of us used to know and love have been replaced with something creepy and mean and severely corporatized.

I don’t normally object to death in comics, or severe violence, or rudeness, or anything else like that. But I’m close to tapped out on it. There’s nothing wrong with death or violence or rudeness, because they can create great stories and characters. But you can’t overdo it, or it loses its power. All the stuff that’s supposed to shock us has been dumped on us in such quantities that no one notices any more.

So really, I’d like ’em to stop. Quit killing characters for shock value. Quit abusing characters for shock value. Stop taking easy shortcuts to big sales, and just start writing fun stories again.

I’m not saying to quit publishing “The Punisher” or “The Authority.” But quit trying to turn everyone into Punisher and Authority clones.

This problem really started, at least for DC, with “Identity Crisis.” Killing the Elongated Man’s wife, Sue Dibny, was a bad enough mistake, but for a lot of people, retconning her into a rape victim was just pointlessly trying to shock readers. It wasn’t edgy storytelling — it was just mean. And for some reason, DC mistook the angry complaints for proof that they were being edgy and avant garde, so they really got busy ladling on the blood. The company that used to write stories where the violent psychos from Image Comics were parodied into villains was now trying to turn their whole company into Image Comics East…

But the problem with doing stuff for shock value is that it loses its shock value when you do it too much. And when people stop being shocked by stunt storylines, it doesn’t mean you should try to get even more extreme. It means you should probably stop trying to shock your readers all the time.

And DC, please stop trying to recreate the glory days of “Crisis on Infinite Earths.” People would probably rather read good, entertaining, original stories, instead of rehashes of 20-year-old comics. Just because Hollywood can’t stop releasing remake after remake after remake doesn’t mean you should emulate them.

And this doesn’t just go for DC either. Marvel has been way too fond of random deaths and endless crossovers and ever more extreme “shocks” that no longer shock.

Compare “Countdown” to the “Marvel Adventures” line. The former is loud, violent, flashy, tied down to confusing continuity that new readers can’t understand, pretends to be shocking, and worse, is mired in bad, boring writing. The latter has great writing, doesn’t try to overload its readers with shocks and deaths and blood, doesn’t confuse new readers, and is just plain fun to read.

Both DC and Marvel should spend more time emulating “Marvel Adventures” and less time producing dreck like “Countdown.”

Off topic: Yes, I’m way behind on my comics reviews, and I’m likely to stay way behind for a while. I’ll try to catch up over this weekend and next week.

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Girl Power

Ran into an interesting article from out of Brownsville about the city’s first female comic shop owner. Actually, most of the article focuses on women who read comics, and what they prefer to read.

While the Japanese-style art can be popular among female readers, Hodge has an even mix of men and women as readers. She said every reader is different, and shouldn’t be limited by gender.

“Female readers aren’t some strange creatures that you ‘figure out’ to cater to,” she said. “The comics just have to be good, interesting stories. If the comic book industry treats female readers as an oddity, we notice, and we don’t like feeling that way. So we wouldn’t buy a book that makes us feel so.”

Hodge has enjoyed comics of all kinds since she was little.

“My mom would bring me the comics from the newspaper and I would try to draw them as practice,” she said. “As a teenager though, I became very interested in anime, with Sailor Moon being the first show to really catch my interest.”

The rising popularity of Japanese anime provided an eye-opener for many young girls over the past decade.

Manga comics are probably the most popular comics with female readers, but it’s far from universal.

Just as male audiences associate themselves with the suave James Bond or gruff Wolverine, Martinez said some women like to put themselves in the stiletto-heeled shoes of super-heroines.

“These women have the power to be sexy, but powerful,” she said. “A girl can be voluptuous and still go medieval on you.”

With Martinez’ husband ready to publish his first comic book, the Brownsville-based hero Opossum, and Martinez herself a big collector, the couple’s daughter has grown up surrounded by comic books.

“I like Batman, Superman, Transformers,” said Angelina Hernandez, 7.


Blanco said female super-heroes are a good way for girls to get into reading comics. Younger girls can expand their reading skills and women can escape the stresses of the real world with fantasy.

Wonder Woman, the most famous female super-hero, comes highly recommended by Blanco.

“She’s just such a strong character and she’s dealing with more realistic things,” she explained.

Whatever their interests, Blanco suggests more women give comic books a chance.

“Just try something new and you’ll always have something to look forward to every month when the next story comes out,” she said. “Even if they are talking about stories in space or something else, it’s something different.”

There are a bunch of female comics readers who are big fans of superheroes — Ragnell and Kalinara are both big fans of traditional spandex-clad superheroes, plus there’s Ami Angelwings, Karen Healy, and Valerie D’Orazio, not to mention When Fangirls Attack, Sequential Tart, and the Feminist SF Carnival.

But as D’Orazio found while talking to people at Comic-Con in San Diego, most female comics readers are definitely not reading superheroes. And an ongoing problem for the major comic book companies is that they seem to be almost completely unable to market comics to anyone but white males.

Why? Because building an audience is very hard work. Traditional comics have several decades of built-in audience — again, mainly white males. Building an audience beyond white males has a lot of roadblocks in the way — it’s hard to convince new audiences that they should be interested in comics, because women and non-whites are used to thinking of comics as a “white-guys-only” medium. And comics companies are usually parts of large corporations — and if one particular comic doesn’t sell a lot of copies, the corporate bean counters may order the plug pulled.

Is there a solution? Other than slow change over many years, probably not. Eventually, more women may start reading comics. Eventually, more comics companies may start to try to appeal to more female readers. But a rapid sea change for the industry probably isn’t possible.

So how ’bout it? Girls — what comics do you like to read, or what would convince you to start reading comics? And boys — would you be willing to read a “girl-centric” comic, or do you read them already?

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Reading your First Comic Book

Retired-Man loves comics. Don’t you want to be cool like Retired-Man?

I know most of y’all reading this have probably never read a comic book in years, if ever. Heck, many of y’all will probably never read a comic in your life. But I’m hoping some of y’all may at some point decide to buy some comic books and see what all the fuss is about.

Well, first, you may have trouble reading them. No, seriously. “Oh, come on! They’re just funnybooks! I can read quantum physics at a 20th-grade level, fer cryin’ out loud!” Well, that’s as may be, but I’ve still known people who just couldn’t wrap their brains around the concept of simultaneously reading and looking at artwork. It didn’t mean they weren’t smart; it didn’t mean they couldn’t read. It just meant they were more comfortable reading text by itself without having to deal with distracting artwork. If you fall into this category, don’t sweat it. There are greater tragedies in life.

Second, don’t just run to the local comics shop and grab any handful of brightly colored comics off the shelf. Superman and Batman may be the best-known superheroes on the planet, but that doesn’t mean they’re everyone’s cup o’ grog. If you enjoyed, for example, the Spider-Man movies, pick up a Spider-Man comic instead.

And don’t feel that you have to buy superhero comics. If you’re into “Law and Order,” you may find any of the myriad crime comics (like “Sin City” and “Stray Bullets”) more to your liking. If you like horror movies, look for some horror comics (like “The Walking Dead” or any of the various “Hellboy” spinoffs). Are you into fantasy? Try the “Conan” comics or go digging for some old issues of Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman.” Be aware of what you like and look for comics that are already similar to what you prefer reading.

You may have an easier time if you used to read comics years ago and would like to get back into the habit. If you used to read books like “Justice League of America,” “Iron Man” or “Green Lantern,” those comics are still around — pick them up and see if you still like them. Of course, some comics have changed a lot over the years. There have been several different superheroes calling themselves the Flash over the past couple decades, and the X-Men have had so many members, you may not recognize them at all. If you still prefer the old comics from your youth, both Marvel and DC sell some very affordable collections of black-and-white comics reprints.

Still not sure what you’d like? Unwilling to buy comics that you may end up disliking? Here in Lubbock, we’re fortunate that our municipal library has comics you can check out. Most of what they have are what’s called trade paperbacks (or TPBs) which are several issues’ worth of a comic bound together in book format. That way, you can get a whole Wonder Woman or X-Men storyarc at once, instead of trying to make sense of a single random issue.

And if you’re still not sure what you’d like to read, talk to your friendly neighborhood comic shop employee or librarian. Tell ’em you’re new to comics and would like some guidance about some good comics to start with, and they’ll be happy to give you a hand.

Remember, there are lots of places to find comics, even here in the deepest, darkest wilds of Lubbock. Most of the chain bookstores have at least a few comics or comics anthologies, and Star Books and Comics over at 2014 34th Street is probably the best comic shop you’re gonna find between Dallas and Albuquerque. Check ’em out.

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