They say that money makes the world go ’round, and in a strictly metaphorical sense this is probably true. What is definitely true is that lack of money can certainly bring it to a screeching halt – especially if your world is comics.
I’ve complained about the inexorable rise of the cost of comics before of course, but since nobody in comics publishing seems to have been paying attention I guess I’m going to have to raise the issue again. The inconvenient truth here is that whatever their reasons, when the price of comics goes too high the medium becomes even more inaccessible to the average punter. That can only be a bad thing when you consider that the average punter isn’t exactly beating a path to our door in the first place.
From a personal point of view of course I have to say that the current trend in pricing is pretty bad news for fanboys like me too. My weekly pull list is getting smaller and smaller as I constantly trim titles to try and save money, and yet my monthly spend continues to rise. I’m back up to the sort of money I used to spend in my obsessive student days, when I would occasionally skip meals to fund my habit. These days of course I have a mortgage and my wife most definitely disapproves of forgoing food in favour of comics, so it’s a bit of an issue to say the least. Right now my list is stripped back to what I consider to be the bare essentials, and Im genuinely worried about what I’ll have to cut next.
And this is at the root of my grievance. Comics publishers* seem to have taken a view here. They know that the core readership will pretty much pay whatever they have to in order to get their regular comix fix, and that when their budget gets tight they’ll probably make cuts elsewhere. This of course means that they are essentially behaving like corner drug dealers, and that makes it pretty hard to feel good about the world I’ve chosen to inhabit for the last twenty years.
The question is, as ever, what do we do about it? Because the other inconvenient truth here is that just like the average corner dealer, the publishers of the comics we love have us over a barrel.** They have what we want, and we can’t go anywhere else for it. We either pay their ever inflated prices or we don’t get the stories we crave.
Are we prepared to walk away? Really?
That’s the problem with addicts.*** We are, by definition, very easy to exploit and in a way criticizing companies for taking maximum financial advantage of their market is a bit like criticizing a dog for barking. As my good friend Budgie has observed more than once, the big companies are not in business to make comics. They’re in business to make money. Making comics is simply how they do that.
The problem therefore is not really with the publishers themselves but with the system we’ve developed in the Anglo-American comics industry. The problem as I see it is that the industry in both the US and the UK has always been based around the maximization of profit. In the grand scheme of things there’s nothing wrong with that of course – if comics companies don’t make money they don’t survive to make comics. It’s just that there is no balance in the Anglo-American comics industry. Of course making money is important, but if that’s all you care about then whatever you make is going to start to lose its soul.
Fortunately this isn’t a universal problem. As a medium as opposed to an industry, comics are doing fine. There’s all manner of fabulous comics out there made by people who love comics as much as you do**** if you take time to look for them, and increasingly they have the same production values as the big publishers. And then, of course, there’s the rest of the world.
Because, much as it might astonish the average British or American reader, there are comics in the non English speaking world too. My Euro-centric spies inform me that in France five out of the top ten books are in fact comics. Can you imagine the New York Times top ten being 50% graphic narrative? I know I can’t.
And you see I think there could well be a link here. France is a less capitalist society than Britain and America. A nation that prides itself on the three hour lunch break and shuts down entirely for the whole of August***** definitely has more on it’s mind than mere money. As a result, the Francophone comics***** industry has a greater amount of credibility with its readership who don’t feel exploited and so are quicker to accept comics as an art form.
It turns out that Timothy was right. The love of money is the root of all evil.******* It is the pursuit of money above all considerations of art or quality that has sullied the reputation of comics in the Anglophone world to the point that the medium may never be taken seriously here, and it is that pursuit which may, ultimately make comics as we know them so expensive that they cease to exist.
The only question now is “what d owe do about it?” and I am forced to confess that I have absolutely no idea whatsoever.
Answers on a postcard******** please.
*Obviously some are more at fault than others, but I won’t name them because I have an aversion to getting sued. I suspect you know who I mean…
**Not that I’m saying we’re all in the thrall of petty drug pushers, obviously. You know what I mean.
***And I’m afraid that that’s how we behave at times.
****Which, in the spirit of not being a damn whiner all my life I might well tell you about next time.
*****Well, OK, so I’m stereotyping a little. Not much though.
******Yes, I know that there is a word for comics in French, but I’m choosing not to use it because I’m not French.
*******Timothy 6:10, to be precise. Yes, I’m an atheist, but that doesn’t mean I think that the Gospel is entirely wrong.
********Or e-mail. Whatever works for you.