Nostalgia ain't what it used to be, or so they say, but while it's probably a bad idea to live in the past* it can be a fun place to visit. This is certainly true in comics because in spite of the vast number of collectors graphic narrative tends to remain something of an ephemeral medium. This is less true than it used to be, what with the rise of the graphic novel and the seeming indestrucability of anything that's been digitised, but your average floppy still has a depressingly finite lifespan – even if you take care of it.
This of course, is what makes back issues of certain comics valuable – if they're in demand and fragile they're likely to be rare, and demand+rarity=££££££££**. For those of us with large collections this is a good thing if only because non-readers assume we're collecting for investment purposes and stop asking annoying questions about why we're buying comics when we're the heavy side of forty.***
Mostly though, this phenomenon of flimsy fragility doesn't make anyone rich. What it does is to make comics disappear.
The traditional life cycle of your average comic story runs a little like this: Stories are put into comics. Comics are published. They sit on the shelf at your local comics store. They are bought. That is all. If the last copy sells before you buy it, then you can rummage in the back issue bins, and you might get lucky. But you might not. When it's gone, it's gone.
Of course, there have always been ways in which this rather summary system has been mitigated. If the story in question was a: good enough, and b: fortunate enough to have been published by a company with the resources, there was always the possibility that it might get reprinted.**** All well and good if you happen to want to read old stories about Batman, or Spider-Man, or whoever. But there's a whole sector of comics out there that don't often get the chance to be re-printed, because they weren't published by a company with bog resources. They weren't published by a company at all.
Regular readers will know that some of my favourite ever comics were from the "small press" and "self published"***** community. Many of them, like The Jock, Bahalana and Square Eyed Stores – all mentioned in this column over the last few weeks – were (or are) lovingly created by dedicated people, then copied on old fashioned office copiers and distributed through cons and local comics shops. Others were lovingly created by dedicated people, sent to a printer, printed and bound, and then distributed through cons and local comics shops.
Oh, and when the internet happened, some of them got themselves distributed through that. But basically the only difference between the two types is budget. In both cases, there isn't much of one and it doesn't run to very much in the way of sales and marketing – which means that as a rule such works reach significantly smaller audiences than they should, and there's certainly no realistic prospect of any kind of reprint.
This is, quite frankly, a tragedy.
So many stories that will not only never be read by the vast majority of their potential audience, but which will, in the fullness of time, be totally lost. I don't know how many complete collections of The Jock currently exist******, for example, but I bet it's a number lower than ten. What a waste of a cracking good story that, because of the nature of the subject matter also stands as a little bit of social history. There are literally thousands of comics like this.
The comics that disappeared.
Which is why it's always heartening when something happens to bring one of these greats back, so that old readers can once again rave about how good they are and pass them on to new readers who missed them the first time around. If you were reading the column back in November, you might remember my review of Verity Fair #3 by the North East's premier purveyor of comics about jobbing actresses Terry Wiley. You might also remember that this latest venture from the pen of Mr Wiley fits into a universe of other self published comics that Terry has been involved with.
Well, I'm very happy indeed to relate that two facets of that many faceted universe are to rise, phoenix like from the obscurity of wherever it is that out of print self published comics go to hide. Both Surreal School Stories, which Wiley co-created with Dave McKinnon, and Petera Etcetera, which Wiley worked on with the late Ade Kermode, are to be collected and re-printed by AAM Markosia.*******
Happy, happy, happy!
Finally a publisher with the vision to look not just for new talent and new ideas, but also to recognise existing talent and give older material a new lease of life. Saving such stories for a new generation is practically a public service, and certainly ought to be encouraged. So, in the spirit of my New Year's aspiration to read and promote more self published material, I've been wondering what other comics should be given such a new lease of life, and I can think of several.
But what about you?
Comment below, or even better, give me a Tweet – I can be found on Twitter as @regierigby – give me recommendations! Together we can give some great stories back to an audience that will appreciate them. To an audience that deserves the chance to appreciate them. You know it makes sense!
See you in six, because I am a day late.
*I mean, for most of it they didn't even have internet access – I have no idea how civilisation survived. They must have actually had to put the kittens on skateboards themselves!
**or $$$$$$$$$, if you prefer. Please feel free to insert the currency symbol of your choice…
***We, of course, all know that this is in no way the reason why anyone buys comics. The only way to become a millionaire by buying and selling comics is to start with at least two million. That said, if you're the sort of person who thinks comics are a sound financial investment give me a call – I've got a couple of bridges I can sell you…
****When I say "good enough", I am of course using the term "good enough" to mean "good enough for a given value of good". It is worth noting that some unmitigated shite has been honoured with a reprint over the years, either because there was fan interest or one of the big two had some space to fill in a eighty page giant and the strip was the right length. Having said all of that, I still find it difficult to believe that anyone thought Batman: A Death in the Family was worth reprinting. But then I find it hard to believe that anyone thought it was worth printing in the first place, so there you go…
*****These are not terms I like, but if I used them, people know what I mean which I guess makes them suitable for the purpose…
******If you happen to own such a set and are looking to get rid of it, please get in touch by the way. There's a big The Jock shaped hole in my collection which will, I fear, never be filled.
*******About which, more in future columns. I'm hoping to get some words from Willey himself, and who knows, maybe from Harry "Markosia" Markos too…