Part One told you the impression we ought to make. Two told you what NOT to fill them with, and now…let’s discuss how to give it to them.
Interested parties don’t have to crawl the net for long until running into the latest debate arguing the merits of the monthly “pamphlet” versus the permanence and increased popularity of the trade paperback. That’s also the last time I’ll refer to the monthly format as a “pamphlet.” Joe Quesada and Bendis despise that particular terminology and have made convincing arguments as to why they do, and I’ve recently come to agree with them. Pamphlets are found in health clinics…I read comic books. I’ll simply refer to them as “monthlies” for the duration of this examination.
Now that everyone’s comfortable…let’s end this…
The monthly format is indispensable to the industry at this juncture. It permits the cogs to turn in a financial direction, and preserves the episodic format and pace offering the quick and immediate bang for your buck. It also contributes to the typical misconceptions regarding the industry with its “not a magazine, yet damn sure not a book” appearance, automatically downgrading the mainstream’s expectations on sight.
Just how seriously can Joe Average take something stored for posterity in a polyurethane bag and a long box?
Additionally, they’re too expensive at nearly three bucks a pop for 22 pages of story and art, therein lying the most dangerous of Catch-22s for cover prices remain so high to maintain the standard of quality audiences are demanding. However, the exorbitant pricing isn’t what’s keeping the mainstream away anyway, because the Ultimates could have a cover price of a dollar and the guy on the street wouldn’t care because one, who wants to read a “comic book,” and two, they can’t find the damn things anyway.
Cue the secret weapon please.
The trade paperback is the future of the medium. It’s our last line of defense against the initial inclinations Joe Average has to ignore our strange “funny books.” For all the commentary about distribution, distribution, distribution, there are more people that will pick up a comic with temporary interest, laugh at how they used to read these things when they were kids, and place it back on the stands, curiosity satisfied and purchase unmade. These things could be in every supermarket in the continental United States, and people STILL wouldn’t buy them.
It’s the illusion of affordability that we’ve sacrificed for computer coloring and glossy paper, tools that have become necessary and expected. And even with these tools at our disposal, there are people that need to be actively force-fed our material. Because comics are “for kids,” and in the current monthly format, they’re too expensive for them to discover otherwise. Joe Average isn’t shelling out three bucks for the latest X-Men, there’s an Entertainment Weekly or a Maxim with more pages in it, even if the majority are full-color ads.
The trade is our weapon against these people. It’s dozens of pages and bound format instantly alters the understood perception of what a comic book is, and re-establishes the illusion of affordability. Selling a 22-pager at three bucks is a much tougher sale than 144 at fifteen, especially when the product is residing at your local bookstore offering a complete story in a format Joe wouldn’t be completely embarrassed for someone to see him in public with.
Placing the product in bookstores increases our chances of introducing graphic literature to an entirely different audience not driven into a frenzy by Wednesday afternoons. It’s all in keeping with appearances, and Joe Average is more impressed with the collected Ultimate X-Men than its six individual components. The only significant downside to the format is that it effectively prices several younger readers out of reasonable range. But does this truly even matter anymore? The children’s audience in modern comics has become a niche at best, and the question becomes…should we even care?
I don’t believe that children emerging from the womb with a URL imprinted on their brain and an X-BOX controller permanently grafted to their forearms are going to find themselves naturally giving a shit about comics. The days of the dollar comic at the local 7-11 are long past. Why can we not abandon the distant possibility that it’s likely we’ll be able to hook them young and nurture them into adulthood? Why do people think that our best bet is supermarkets and convenience stores?
You know where we should have graphic novels stocked?
At the fuckin’ Old Navy. Abercrombie & Fitch. Sam Goody. College bookstores. That’s where the potential audience lives, spending seventy bucks on jeans and giant hoop earrings without batting an eye. You think it’d be difficult to sell these kids ten dollar trades if we got them in their face? Placement in clothing and record stores automatically elevates their street credibility to ‘cool.’ The audience has officially changed. Instead of whining and brainstorming for creative solutions that are terribly focused on recovering readers that don’t exist in large quantities anymore, we should be targeting teens just getting their first jobs and still hangin’ at the mall.
Monthlies are the flavor that provides sustenance for the direct market, but the mass market needs trades, and needs them delivered in more creative ways. And with our products reasonably aimed at the people they’re written for anyway…it makes the “mature readers” imprints even more important. Kids are fascinated by parental advisory stickers, things they’d have to hide under the bed from their parents. Mature branches of our catalogs, and to a large extent creator-owned material, ensures that the medium remains something dangerous…if they’re done right that is.
The Forbidden Fruit:
The mature comic is a very strange animal.
Everyone seems aching to publish them, but few are willing to exploit the potential storytelling possibilities. More often than not, mature is classified as two parts graphic violence, one part gratuitous nudity with a dash of harsh language, stir and serve. These shouldn’t be the required ingredients for “mature comics.” It’s too obvious. It’s too easy, and at the end of the day it leaves things ultimately hollow. “Mature” should mean more. Here’s an example.
What was Marvel’s first MAX comic? I’m warning now beforehand…this is a trick question. Think carefully. What was it? Come on. You think you know don’t you?
Only the people that said Black Panther are correct. Panther is and continues to be the epitome of “mature comics” with complicated politically charged plots that would convince any discerning reader that writer Christopher Priest is indeed a genius. There are no tits, no entrails, and no cussing, but there’s an additional level of complexity lacing the storylines that sets it completely apart from anything else on the stands. That’s what a ‘mature’ comic is.
If I had my way, the current run would be released in a series of regular trades under the MAX label. Canceling that Wolverine book, moving it to MAX, calling it Logan, and having Rucka and Darick Robertson go to work would provide the label with an instant top 10 darling. And how fun would it be to see Deadline monthly and cycled into the label? Creatively, the only thing separating Vertigo from MAX is a few good monthly hits (and I’m only picking on MAX because I like them) and several years of incubation time. Their strategy right now seems to be hit-and-run, exploring genres that often don’t garner much coverage or attention, which is a proper foundation.
That is the nature of mature comics. They exist to say what others cannot. Our ability to relate truly original and engrossing stories can be accurately measured by what we say when we have no restrictions. When a naturalistic mainstream market isn’t flooding our stores with the most remarkably constructed pop comics that appeal to the masses.
That’s the secret of all this.
When we can do anything in the world…what do we do? Creative progress isn’t accurately measured by the Diamond chart for the simple fact that it follows the same predictable trends as a Soundscan or Bookscan. Pop music will reign supreme. Mystery novels, spy thrillers, and Oprah’s Book Club will dominate the bookstores. Superheroes will conquer all because that’s what we created them to do. What superhero loses a fight nowadays? You could have the flashiest glow-in-the dark cover, company logo running vertically down the center, with the ensuing trade hitting the shelves of Old Navy in five months time and it doesn’t matter. The attractive and accessible dressing is just a weapon to prompt people into hearing us. The content of things classified “mature” and creator-owned are the reliable yard stick by which the industry should be measured because it answers the always relevant question of…
…if you could say anything in the world…what would you say?
What would YOU say?
Think about that for a minute as the various components assemble themselves.
You’ve just seen The Blueprint.
Hope you enjoyed this, folks; it was a lot of fun putting together. Because I was concerned with the possibility that The New Hotness and other assorted things detracted from the final product, I along with the help of my editor have assembled Perfect Blueprint to forever reside in the Ambidextrous index. It will exist un-interrupted by New Hotness, summarization and transition. It’s apparently a few thousand words of me railing against things without fail and we hope it all makes some kind of sense. I wouldn’t know, I just work here.
New Hotness is below as usual…
Ultimates #6 (Mark Millar/Bryan Hitch)
Let’s pretend for a moment that Hitch’s slick and detailed pencils don’t have you drooling like a Pavlov dog. Let’s also suppose that Millar’s vision of modern celebrity trappings grafted with post-human military intervention isn’t jiving with you. How about this…let’s presume you don’t like the Ultimate line? Ah, fuck this. There’s really no logical reason to dislike this title. Superheroes for the twenty-first century. PR spin doctoring and media manipulation. The after-effects of the battle with the Hulk. The real reason Tony Stark has decided to save the world. And a disturbing display of domestic violence. It’s the Ultimates dammit – the best superhero book you’re reading.
Skinwalker #3 (Nunzio DeFilippis & Christina Weir/Brian Hurtt & Arthur Dela Cruz)
Oni has this pleasant little habit of releasing quality books and Skinwalker continues that trend with exceptional flourish and style. The covers by Durwin Talon are a wonderful blend of pastel and oil that prompt you into wishing we could read a whole book that looks like this. But that’s okay here, because Brian Hurtt (of Queen and Country fame) is doing an accomplished job rendering easily distinguishable characters in a variety of locales, ranging from a reservation to a trendy coffee shop. Dela Cruz (of Kissing Chaos fame) provides the pretty finish, bringing this excellent script to life that is one part detective story, one part cultural confrontation, and two parts supernatural thriller. Someone is killing people, wearing their skins and usurping their identities, and time is quickly running out…
100% #3 (Paul Pope)
This book is the personification of The Blueprint. It does everything absolutely right and makes it look easy. The wraparound cover is marked by a flashy transparent logo, below the Vertigo insignia and the description “a graphic movie”. The inside cover contains of all things a summary of the previous issues events, related with clever flair. The issue continues the suspended numbering of the preceding chapter, beginning at the number 97 and preserving the notion that this whole series is an actual graphic movie separated into digestible pieces. And what’s this clever little thing about anyway? It’s about people. Their lives. Their loves. Their insecurities. And it’s fuckin’ excellent. I’m thinking of the completed package on the shelves of Old Navy and Sam Goody and getting goose bumps…
Very honorable mentions also go to Black Panther #48 and The Filth #3. Perhaps next time their competition won’t be as fierce…