Welcome back to SBC’s The Panel, a chance for you to put your burning questions – comics-related or otherwise – to a group of comics professionals.

The Panel lives or dies by your contributions; please email them to panel@silverbulletcomicbooks.com and we’ll add them to the list…

Before I present you with the 1st panel of 2005 I thought I would introduce the new members we have, who have joined us this year…

We have Daley Osiyemi creator of Brodie’s Law, Richard Emms from the UK’s AP Comics, Artist of 2000AD Frazer Irving, Sean O’Reilly of Arcana Studios, cartoonist James E. Lyle and hopefully few more surprises up my sleeve coming soon…

This week’s question comes from our very own Bart Thompson and is as follows:-

“Has the monthly (single/pamphlet) comic outlived its usefulness and are original graphic novels the wave of the future? Why or why not?”

Sean O’Reilly:

I don’t think that the single-issue comics are gone, but I do hear a number of people start to complain at the price per page. In terms of reading I personally like the graphic novel better as I can continuously read a story from start to finish and get a beginning, middle and end (no threat of not finishing a series ~ how frustrating is that?!). At Arcana we’ve aggressively managed to make 140 page (of 4, 5 or 6 issues) color books priced at $9.95. It’s tough but possible to get away with these aggressive prices if you look to the non-direct market as well for sales. I know a lot of people are saying that the industry should move to a format that is larger than 22 pages such as the European and Asian market. Apparently the 22 page model that has become standard in our industry was based on the rationing of paper during second World War many moons ago. However, it’s currently become a tidy amount of pages as it’s realistic goal for an art team to complete in 30 days (making a series monthly). I believe the nineties saw many comic collectors, whereas now we see many ‘graphic novel’ readers. It’s a paradigm shift for many publishers and readers, but I definitely think it’s a great direction to move into that we will embrace.

Si vales, gaudeo!

Sean Patrick O’Reilly is Editor-in-Chief of Arcana Studios, and the writer of their book, Kade.

Richard Emms:

Looking at how much the market has changed in such a short space of time since I left comics retail (and started to publish) it has to be said that Trade Paper Backs and OGNs are definitely the shape of things to come.

I do believe that there will always be singles issues – after all it is what keeps the market going – as we are all fanboys at heart. Most of us look forward to a monthly fix. But in my eyes TPBs and OGNs are there for the not so concerned reader who has hasn’t got the time to call into his/her local comic store each month. Call it laziness or even put it down to the sheer mass of entertainment available that we are faced with – it all boils down to one thing. Time and money. Has the twenty-something really got the time to collect comics anymore? Bagging, boarding, storing issues that may never be read again? When, simply, an inexpensive TPB can be bought and read and then passed on and enjoyed by more people. So what if it gets water damaged or the corners get bent or dog-eared… who cares!?

The next decade will be the single comic’s test of stability in a market that is rapidly changing. Maybe the regular comic shop could be doomed if they don’t look at this with some interest. And if the market did only cater for the TPB and OGN market could a comic store with little budget and foresight compete with the likes of Borders, Ottakars and Barnes and Noble?

I prefer TPBs and OGNs – and I will occasionally pick up the odd single issue here and there. Maybe I reflect the majority of comic fans out there. Or am I talking out of my ass?

You only have to look at the biggest distributor of comics, Diamond, to realise what is happening very quickly. Diamond now has its own book distribution company (Diamond Book Distributors) and its monthly reports show that more and more regular bookshops in the USA are now stocking TPBs and OGNs in some depth.

APComics has realised this trend and has made available 12 TPBs within its two year history. Single issue sales are still good – but our TPB sales are growing all the time.

Richard Emms is the publisher behind AP Comics, their editor-in-chief and writer of a number of their titles, including our favourite, Monster Club.

Frazer Irving:

Hell not. The monthly format is still a great way for readers to enjoy the stories within, something 2000AD proves on a weekly basis, and I think it’s incredibly short-sighted to think that the larger books are the best way to go. I do think that the “OGN” should be nurtured more, but monthly comics are a wonderful thing and I’m sure the two can exist side-by-side with their own sets of fans.

Frazer Irving: Essex boy, artist, philanderer. Did the small press for 5 years, then 2000AD for another five, moved onto the glorious silky pages of DC recently. Not one for pigeonholing, he rejects the penciller-inker-colourist team-up and has merged 3 clones of himself into 1 so that he does all jobs. Possibly known for work on 2000AD‘s Necronauts, Judge Death and The Simping Detective, currently doodling Klarion the Witch-Boy for DC.

Daley Osiyemi:

Monthly comics still have a place, only with the big publishers who bring out many titles and can cover cost. Not so with small press or indies who sell very low numbers which just about covers their costs.

I personally think Graphic novels are the future of the comic industry. Why?

Because they are sold in stores other than comic shops and they are the medium breaking into other markets. When was the last time you saw a high street book store stock comic books. Is it any wonder why a publisher like TOKYOPOP is dominating the market at the moment?

You have to also look at the comic demographic. The market is diminishing and more and more readers want self contained stories. Most readers can’t wait for issues to come out monthly, bi-monthly or quarterly if at all, which is always the problem with small.

Daley Osiyemi creator of Brodie’s Law and co-founder of Pulp Theatre Entertainment where he works as producer and creator on various new media and comic projects. Writer and producer of online animated comic series None But Us, developed a character to help promote broadband and is currently working on a graphic novel and a film idea.

James E. Lyle (a.k.a. Doodle):

First off this is really two questions. I’ll deal with the first half first, for clarity’s sake I’ll deal with the second half secondly. Does that make sense? Good.

Okay, the traditional monthly has much life left in it. First off it’s faster and cheaper to produce, and also cheaper to ship (and having lost one very good comics company over shipping costs, let’s not discount that consideration). A comics creator can reasonably create a monthly (single, “pamphlet”, one-shot, whatever) in about a month’s time. That same creator can, with a little effort also afford to print and ship that same booklet with only printer, distributor, and retailer to assist in getting the intended message across. This is a great system! It has it’s flaws, but then ALL things in a fallen world have flaws, so let’s not quibble about the minor stuff.

Assuming this creator has a little business acumen, the money comes back in (or fan response of some sort) and then said creator can say, “hey, people must have liked this!” and then creator can go out and produce another issue, and so on. Once creator gets to a certain point, it’s perfectly okay for creator to decide to package all of the past issues into one big issue and produce a Trade Paper Back (TPB). Nothing wrong with that either.

This method is not unlike a lot of other publishing schemes used in the past several hundred years. Writers like Edgar Rice Burroughs and Fyodor Dostoyevsky (excuse my spelling, I’ve probably misspelled both their names) used similar approaches; publishing individual chapters in monthly magazines that paid them pennies per word, but then later collecting the chapters into novels which they self-published with great success.

So why not?

That’s not to say that if a creator has a longer story to tell that he or she shouldn’t exercise the right to try a different format. Which brings us to the second part of the subject: Graphic Novels. As you might anticipate I take a moderate stand on the importance of original Graphic Novels. Sure, do them if you feel that’s the best approach.

The trick here is getting distributors and retailers on board. To which I say to all creators (again), “CONTENT!” Is there one retailer out there that doesn’t keep a few dusty copies of TinTin or Asterix around the shop? Has Diamond EVER refused to carry a Carl Barks book (that amounts to an original Graphic Novel)? Why do they do this? Because they know eventually these types of books will sell. But the magic formula is that they are well thought out, well produced, and created for family audiences…across the board. Which should lead us nicely into next week’s question and so I’ll drop the subject of content there.

One footnote: A question arises about this debate. Is the PRINTED pamphlet, or PRINTED GN on the way out? While I’m not ready to throw out all my printed books, one has to wonder how long until most printed comics are actually simply collected “favorites” from the web. I now take a few comics via e-mail and don’t even buy a newspaper (for various reasons). Someday I hope that Scott Stantis’ and Greg Cravens’ “The BUCKETS” will be collected in book form, but for now I get them on a daily basis from UFS website. If I, a dedicated book nut will succumb to this, how long until we’re all getting our comics online? Hmmm…

James E. Lyle is a cartoonist and illustrator, including co-creating titles Escape to the Stars, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. and DoorMan, plus work on Fright Night, Cynicalman Sells Out, and the accurately-spelt Wiindows. More recently Lyle worked on Turok, the “missing” Paul Gulacy T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, and DRASTIK #1.

Mike Collins:

I still love the idea of individual comics, but they cost way too much. That alone might kill’em.

I also think trends in comics storytelling -the ‘make it for the trade paperback’ approach is killing single issues. I love 100 Bullets, but only buy that in trades because it feels like the stories work better that way.

Original graphic novels… well, in Europe there’s been a long standing tradition of running excerpts or serializations of new graphic novels in magazines– 16 pages of the new Jean-Pierre Gibrat GN (Le Vol Du Corbeau 2) is in the current issue of BoDoi, a French anthology comic magazine– which is very different to having a whole ‘pamphlet’ (damn I hate that word) devoted to a part of a story, like the current American format. 2000AD follows in this tradition by running serials that are then collected as graphic novels.

I know anthology comics seem to be a notoriously difficult sell in the States but I don’t understand why.

Mike Collins is currently artist on ‘American Gothic’ for 2000AD, and producing a crime fiction graphic novel for Westwind in Norway, as well as providing regular illustrations for Future Publications and Doctor Who Monthly.

Bart Thompson:

Mostly I asked because I wanted to see the other answers to this question. Personally I’m a fan of OGN’s and TPB’s for many reasons. First singles are like episodes of a TV show while OGN’s and trades are like getting the whole season at once. I don’t have much leisure time, so when I do have such time I like to get the whole story in one setting be it comics or TV. Very few things can I tolerate the slow burn on. That’s my POV as a reader.

As a publisher I also prefer the larger formats because it’s more cost effective (this counts also as a reader as I don’t have much disposable income). I don’t have a larger parent company backing me and I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth. I have to struggle to do comics and if I didn’t have the love that I have for the industry I would have left to do something more monetarily rewarding eight years ago. For me it’s not about the money- I have a deep drive and desire for story and art and I’m willing to go all out to make my dreams realities. This is not the way with everyone else. Comics are a business and the bottom line is that printing is expensive. Singles are the big boy’s game, and in the past few years they’ve proven that more and more with so many smaller companies going under trying to play that game (CrossGen, MVCreations, and Dreamwave come to mind). I learned the hard way- I published Vampires Unlimited: SOTTC #1 as a single issue thinking I could do the single game. I learned a hard lesson really fast.

So personally, I don’t think singles will ever die out completely. This is Marvel and DC’s bread and butter. But for the small press (that’s anyone outside of Marvel and DC… I’m kinda so/so with Image and Dark Horse… they’re the other big boys, but they’re struggling too) we have to recognize that we can’t survive playing the game by the big fish rules in the big fish pond. We have to change, adapt, and do things differently to survive. I think for us OGN’s and TPB’s are where it’s at. It’ll still be an upstream battle (keeping with the fish comparison) as comic readers aren’t big on change. They’re used to over 60 years of singles and only currently are they slowly adapting to the TPB line of thinking- though they’re still used to having singles first to “test the waters”. Rarely does anyone want to take a chance on an OGN at any level- Readers, Retailers, or Diamond. Too risky. We have to show them that such risks reap rewards.

Bart Thompson is the founder of Approbation Comics and creator of “Vampires Unlimited”, “the Metamutoids”, “ChiSai”, and “Chaos Campus: Sorority Girls vs Zombies”. Be sure to pre-order “Lethal Instinct” from Alias Enterprises and “Myriad” from Approbation

Vince Moore:

Wow, there’s a lot to talk about in this question. Let’s take it a bit at a time, shall we?

First, I don’t think the monthly comic book has outlived its usefulness. Definitely not for companies like Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, and Image. For smaller publishers, it may be close, too close to call. It all depends on what’s best for the story being told and the economics of the publishing situation. We’ve all seen companies come along that just couldn’t keep publishing in the monthly format. Even a couple of Image partners haven’t had good luck lately with the monthly format.

The point is, every creator and publisher has to decide, given the current marketplace, what format works best for them. AiT/PlanetLar is mostly an original graphic novels publisher, although they have done monthly comics as well. The economics of the OGN can call for a higher cash investment upfront but pays off long after the book is published and on the stands.

Second, I do think the OGN is the wave of the future for many creators and publishers. I have many friends now whose plans are to put out OGNs mostly, or at least mini-series that will collected fast. Is the OGN the thing for everybody? No. For some publishers, the monthly still has value and is still best for the impulse buy and being displayed in different places. The OGN will have truly made it when airport newsstands carry some small selection of them for travelers.

I think the point is know what your goals are as a creator and publisher. Many people are self-publishing these days. There are successes and failures. Learn from them as best you can. And being willing to take a chance. Because in the end, comic books or original graphic novels, it’s all about getting sequential art into the hands of readers. That’s the most important thing.

Vince Moore is the editor for DarkStorm Studios, a comics company started by Kevin Grevioux of Underworld fame.

Gary Spencer Millidge:

There has been an inexorable move from the periodical comic book towards the standalone trade paperback format. The recent growth of the bookstore market has certainly fuelled this (and the manga market has created a new market of its own which actually expects their comics to be in self-contained squarebound chunks).

The danger is that the popularity of the TP/GN format is that it may lead to the demise of the periodical/serialised version in certain instances – and bearing in mind that it takes more time and costs more to create a 100+ page TP than it does a 20 page comic – it can cause publishers to take less risks in commissioning new work.

Certainly, the periodical version of a continuing series helps to promote the trade paperback collections every time it’s published – but as the traditional market shifts towards the squarebound format, the periodical version becomes less profitable. Eventually it may become only profitable to publish low-selling comics in one format only, and that format will probably be the trade paperback.

There’s little doubt in my mind that the move towards the more permanent, perennial-selling book format will slowly supplant the disposable, limited shelf-life pamphlet version. It is potentially a more marketable, profitable and artistically valid format into which the art form can grow.

It does make things harder for the small/self-publisher, however, in that it requires more investment in time and cost, and the bookstore market is notorious for returns (whereas the direct comics market is based on non-returnability).

The periodical format will probably continue to evolve, but will become less important than the graphic novel in my view, and overall, I think that will be a good thing for all concerned.

Gary Spencer Millidge is the creator of the weird and wonderful Strangehaven comic, of which issue sixteen is coming imminently….yay!

Alan Grant:

[As we love Alan Grant and he is a legend, his answer gives us all a sneak peak of next week’s question which was sent out with this week’s email – James]

Has the monthly (single/pamphlet) comic outlived its usefulness and are original graphic novels the wave of the future? Why or why not?

How can we get new blood into comics (i.e. Children, Women, Blacks, Asians, Hispanics, Gays/Lesbians) that aren’t the usual comic demographic (middle class white male from age 16-35)?

To some extent, the two questions appear to cancel each other out. If graphic novels are the wave of the future, how will children be able to afford them? How will children be able to develop the attention span necessary to read them? It seems to me that the people who buy most graphic novels pretty well fit your 16-35 white male demography.

To find out how to get more children reading comics, you need only check out your local newsagent or supermarket comic shelf. You’ll find them stuffed with comics based on TV series. With two grandkids aged 5 and 3, I have to read quite a lot of these comics; with few exceptions, they are shite. They either contain no stories, or the stories don’t make sense; the illustrations are often impossible for children to decipher; most pages are taken up with “colour this in” or “spot the difference”. The publisher’s profit margin is the only obvious criterion for anyone publishing such rubbish.

If you want more kids to read comics, put out a good kids’ comic.

I’m a little puzzled as to why you should want more blacks, Asians and Hispanic people to read comics. Having visited several African and Asian countries, I can tell you that most of them have thriving, if poorly invested, comic scenes. Comics are massive in South America, so lots of Hispanics already read them.

If you want gays and lesbians to read more comics, give them something decent to read featuring good gay and lesbian characters.

Where’s the difficulty?

Alan Grant, writer of Dredd, Batman, and the slightly mad Doomlord, can be seen currently with Arthur Ranson on Judge Anderson in the Judge Dredd Megazine, and the superb Com.X trade collection of The Last American.

Devin Grayson:

Let’s tackle the question this way: has the daily soap opera outlived its usefulness and are original movies-of-the-week the wave of the future? The trick is to understand that they’re different products, serving different purposes. In comics we have two very different audiences we’re attempting to serve: the long-term, continuity-obsessed comic fan (some of whom love the characters or series so much that they’re willing to go out and make phenomenal websites and/or fanzines connecting dots that publishers, editors, and creators all regularly let fall through the cracks), and the superhero and/or comic medium neophyte (some of whom come to our products with genuine enthusiasm and curiosity after not having even realized that comic books are still be published).

Since I’ve just now come off of an almost two-year exclusive with DC Comics, I can really only speak to their publishing practices, but I think DC’s trends are significant to the industry as a whole. Over the past few years there has been a dramatic and noticeable shift in the majority of monthly books towards broadly reaching continuity inclusion… this is great for the fan boy, and completely alienating for the neophyte. The last editorial memo I got from DC included references to events from both Zero Hour and Crisis – *I* can barely get my brain around *that*, forget about the novice reader!

All of this would be fine and well if we recognized that we were tipping the scales as heavily as we are and used another product — like graphic novels or even miniseries — to compensate. Unfortunately, the type of administrations to champion fan-only directions in major ongoing series are often the same administrations to question the viability of graphic novels and miniseries (and vice versa), so that any given publishing company ends up with too much of one kind of product and not enough of the other…which directly translates to too much of one kind of reader, and not enough of the other. So to get back to the question: as long as there are fans, there will be a need for monthly series. There may not, however, be fans in the future if we don’t continue to produce material that’s accessible to new readers.

Devin Grayson writes exclusively for DC, the reinvigorated Nightwing being amongst her current crop of books.

Jesse Leon McCann:

Choices, baby, it’s all about having choices. Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t.

Jesse Leon McCann is a New York Times Best-selling Author. He’s currently editing the fourth Simpsons TV Episode Guide for Bongo Comics/Harper Perennial, and writing stories for DC Comics’ Looney Tunes and Cartoon Cartoons.

Kwanza Osajyefo:

Considering that even the top tier books (Batman, X-Men, and so on) are barely topping 100K in unit sales when there is no movie or promotion, I would say YES. However the monthly IS STILL USEFUL it’s just NOT PRACTICAL due to traditional pricing. The Big Two pay about 1 CENT per page to publish a single issue, which comes out to about 32 CENT in cost. They sell that to Diamond for about 60 CENTS. I have no idea how much Diamond sells it to merchants for, but I’d bet money it’s not more that $1.25.

So the consumer (under a Bush economy) is being asked to fork over $3 for a 32-page book of CRAP, 11 pages of which are ads and then wait a whole month to do it again. Considering that the emerging purpose of a 32 is to ATTRACT READERS to a property and potentially trades, merchandise, a $3 price tag is the HEIGHT OF STOOPIDITY. Manga, the grand ass-kicker on the block has CLEARLY SHOWN that readers (NEW readers, to drive the point) DO NOT GIVE A FLYING F*CK about COLOR. So B&W books would chop the price tag on a 32 by a hell of a lot.

SHONEN JUMP is a 300-page monster with 6-7 comics in it and only cost FIVE DOLLARS! Not only is that a HELL OF A LOT CHEAPER, but if the reader picks up the book to read Dragonball Z, they will also be exposed to MORE COMICS; Yu-GU-Oh, Naruto, One Peice, Hikaru No Go and whatever other crack rock Viz is trying to HOOK READERS on. This is NOT ROCKET SCIENCE.

Manga publishers pay nothing for printing, cram all their properties together and charge a nominal fee because if they hook a reader, they get them with the trades, DVDs, etc., and STILL EARN ADVERTISING money. Don’t even get me started on the fact that most manga series come out once a week. That’s right, 18-20 pages a week!!

MARVEL AND DC (BASICALLY ALL AMERICAN COMICS) ARE ROBBING READERS BLIND and saying it is the cost of printing in color. That is complete BULLSHIT. Readers should not be paying more that 99 CENTS for 22 pages a month of crap when the publisher is making all of their REAL MONEY FROM ADVERTISERS. Doing OGNs, even in black-and-white is likely too cost effective unless a publisher is absolutely convinced that the book will do great, like SHARKNIFE.

So to reiterate, yes the monthly comic is STILL USEFUL (in theory), but traditional American publishing practices (i.e. PRICE) make it EXTREMELY INEFFECTUAL.

Kwanza Osajyefo is the founder of funkyComics, home to Jim’s Ninja and a number of other forthcoming comic book properties.

Roberta Gregory:

Well, Fantagraphics stopped publishing my Naughty Bits comic (which was sort of quarterly) and are publishing a big collection of my Bitchy stories this summer, titled Life’s a Bitch. Kim Thompson said that most indy ‘comic books’ these days are basically someone releasing their future graphic novel in periodical form. Most people will wait for the collection. My comic had that nice, periodical feeling with current info, recommendations and guest artists, letters, and material that would probably never end up in a collection. I already miss it. It was the comic book I would love to pick up every so often and have a little window into a creator’s psyche for a time: plus, so much material it takes much longer than 15 minutes to read.

However, I am trying to do much of the same thing with my soon-to-be-up new website, so perhaps things like this are the logical successor of the periodical comic. I know Donna Barr releases much of her current material electronically, later to be collected into print volumes, and she is certainly not alone in this. It certainly makes one’s creative work far more accessible to readers than a print comic book with a short shelf-life which is only available in specialty stores, and only in those specialty stores that carry more ‘controversial’ comics!

Roberta Gregory is the creator of “Bitchy Bitch”, who not only stars in Roberta’s Naughty Bits comic book (ex from Fantagraphics), but also appears on television worldwide in animated adventures, the latest being the “Life’s a Bitch” series on the Oxygen Network.

William Tucci:

Absolutely not — One of my (and I assume many a fellow fan’s) great joys is getting that particular new issue of comics. There is something nostalgic about opening a 32-page comic book for the first time. I know many whom regard it as among their favorite childhood memories that still carries over to the present. The single comic book issue is more than the backbone of our industry; it is its heart and soul.

On the other hand, Graphic Novels are just wonderful and elevates our medium to the masses from mere “funny books” (hate that damn term) to truly respected literature. Wasn’t it Will Eisner whom coined the phrase “sequential art?”

2004 Celebrates Billy and Shi’s 10th Anniversary with a new bi-monthly mini series from Dark Horse Ju-Nen beginning this May.

If you have an opinion on this week’s question go to our forum and let us know!

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