Monday, July 28, 2008

Greg Hatcher from Comics Should Be Good! on Why He Buys Certain Comic Books

To go with yesterday's announcement, today I will be kicking off a five part series of guest posts asking the question, "Why do you buy certain comic books?".

It's not as cut and dry a question as one might think. Do you buy a comic based on the writer, artist or publisher? Is it the genre, such as crime fiction or cosmic super-heroes? Do reviews or friends influence your purchases or do you buy certain books out of obligation, such as to "not break up a run"?

I asked these questions and more to a handful of other comic book bloggers over the past week and they've been kind enough to share their thoughts with me. I will be spotlighting each of the five bloggers every day this week, starting with Comics Should Be Good!'s Greg Hatcher.



Today, Greg Hatcher, from Comic Book Resources' Comics Should Be Good!, shares his reasons for buying the comics he does. Each blogger responded to my question differently and Greg has chosen to simply answer the list of questions I sent which expanded on the types of answers I was looking for.


Why Do I Buy Certain Comic Books?
by Greg Hatcher

Is it the writer?

Most of the time. I have guys whose work I enjoy and I follow their stuff. Some of it involves WHAT they're working on; I much prefer Greg Rucka when he's doing street-level crime books than a title like Adventures of Superman. Although I did find quite a few things to like about his Superman, too.


The Artist?

Almost never. I love comics art and I work as an illustrator and art instructor, the visual element is very important to me.... but it doesn't sell the book.

The visual element is very important to me.... but it doesn't sell the book.  
I have been reading comics for over forty years and I can count the times I bought a book for the art on one hand. In fact, two fingers...one was the Wonder Woman graphic novel "Amazonia", and the other wasn't even a comic; it was the Frank Frazetta book club editions of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom books.

Sometimes bad art puts me off a story. But even then it would have to be really, REALLY bad. About half of Steve Englehart's work on The Avengers had rushed, crappy art, but I am still very fond of that work.


The Company/Publisher?

Nah, not really.


The Genre (space, super hero, crime, street level, etc)?

I like genre stuff, period; books, comics, B-movies, whatever. So I'd have to say yes. I like superheroes and I like westerns and I like street-level crime stories. When a book finds a way to COMBINE those things into a sort of mashup like the new Lone Ranger from Matthews and Cariello, I think I've died and gone to heaven. Especially if the art's good too.

What I really like, though, is capital-A Adventure - something with that sort of "let's-go!" swashbuckling rock and roll vibe.
And lately when a major publisher does hit that vibe there's a kind of snark, almost a mean-spiritedness underneath it, like in the first volume of The Ultimates.  
It's a hard thing to put into words. The visceral excitement you get from movies like the new Iron Man or the Bond books by Ian Fleming or television like Burn Notice. It's serious but it's also fun, fast and loud.

I think that's the kind of excitement that comics can do really well, but you don't see it as much in recent years, not from the major publishers. You have to go looking for it. And lately when a major publisher does hit that vibe there's a kind of snark, almost a mean-spiritedness underneath it, like in the first volume of The Ultimates. When old fogeys (like me) grump about modern superhero comics, it's the innocence component of that hell-for-leather excitement we miss, I suspect. I have a strong hunch that's why so many critics swooned over New Frontier and All-Star Superman, because those books are doing it.


Is it something to do with the first comic book you bought as a child? For example, I love Spider-Man. It was the first comic book I ever read and I still want to buy it even when I dislike the stories or current direction, like JMS's run or the current BND direction.

If I don't at least know what Batman is up to, I feel like I've lost touch with comics.  
I'm always going to be a Bat guy on some level. I always have to LOOK. If I don't at least know what Batman is up to, I feel like I've lost touch with comics.

I also buy reprint volumes of stuff I know is crap just because I remember it fondly from my youth. No one is ever going to be putting Marvel's Godzilla or DC's solo Robin adventures on any best-of lists, but I adored those strips and I snapped up those reprint books the day they came out.


Do you ever feel like you are buying a book out of obligation? For instance, to a certain publisher, creator or because you don't want to "break up a run" or other reasons unrelated to the actual content or quality of the comic?

Never to the character, if that's what you mean. I love Batman but I won't buy a book just because Batman's in it. I have bought a lot of small-press indie stuff at gouger's prices because I wanted to support the guys doing it.
I love Batman but I won't buy a book just because Batman's in it.  
It's embarrassing, the number of badly-done $2 'zines we have around this house. But they're done by great guys who've been nice to my students, even done them sketches and stuff, so I feel like I should reciprocate.

Also, if someone sends a review copy of something I really, really like, I'll go buy it anyway, because I want to see it do well, and I feel absurdly guilty about them losing a sale because they sent me one for free. I've done that with several of the BOOM! Studio books they've sent us. Potter's Field, Cover Girl, Hunter's Moon.


Do reviews or friends or message boards ever cause you to buy a book you'd regularly avoid?

I pay attention to what my colleagues on the blog are into. Greg Burgas has got me to try a couple of things like Fallen Angel, though really, I think I'm about seventy degrees off most of what my partners on the blog like.... they are all WAY more into Grant Morrison's work than I am.

Sometimes I think my function is to be the guy that's obligated to suggest Grant Morrison's not all THAT. If you are reading Comics Should Be Good! and ALL of us agree on something? It's a good book, guaranteed. I think we all liked Potter's Field and All-Star Superman. I think those are the only unanimous thumbs-up reviews.


Similarly, what makes you not buy a comic?

I want ONE story in THIS book, here in my hand.  
If I have such a low opinion of the creator as a human being that it colors what I think of his work, I avoid it. There are guys in comics that have behaved so badly that I won't give them money. I won't name names but I bet you can think of a list of possibles pretty quickly if you've been a fan for a while.

Apart from that? I'll LOOK at most anything once, I try not to be a snob about only liking one thing; but spending money on it has become a much more considered decision. It's reached the point where a lot of times I won't buy a book just because of price. I do a lot less sampling than I used to. The thing that puts me off most is the idea of 'needing to get caught up.' This is why I have been slowly pruning Marvel and DC superhero books from my reserve list. I want ONE story in THIS book, here in my hand.
If you need Wikipedia to decipher the comic book in your hand, it's probably not worth bothering with.  
I don't want to have to try and find the other interstitial bits of it scattered across some sort of line-wide promotion. Some of our readers do their catching up via Wikipedia, but I think if you need Wikipedia to decipher the comic book in your hand, it's probably not worth bothering with. Certainly, that kills any sense of swashbucking excitement the book may have had if you're constantly having to look up things in an index to figure it out.

I want the book to be exciting enough and clear enough that if I do trip over something and need to decipher it from context, that a) there's enough there for me to do that and b) the story's worth the trouble. Last time that happened for me was Cover Girl from BOOM. I came into that one in the middle and was a little confused but it was still FUN. Enough fun that I broke my rule and went and got the previous issues to catch up.

I can justify a used 200-page trade for $7 a lot easier than a 22-page story for $3 or $4.  
Comics are getting too expensive to be casual reading any more, though. Most of my sampling these days is done via used trade paperbacks on Amazon, because those are great deals. I can justify a used 200-page trade for $7 a lot easier than a 22-page story for $3 or $4.


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13 comments:

Rawnzilla said...

Awesome idea, Kirk. Good article, too.

Nathan Aaron said...

"Almost never. I love comics art and I work as an illustrator and art instructor, the visual element is very important to me.... but it doesn't sell the book." - Everyone's different, luckily! Yay! But this is the total opposite for me. If the art isn't there, I'm never there. Being an artist myself, I guess that's why, but I'm sure I've missed out on a lot of good writing, due to bad artwork.

Salieri said...

I have very few reasons. Often it's because of pooled reviews, from the internet and friends, and sometimes it'll be because it's just generally the thing I dig - I'd honestly never heard of Warren Ellis before Thunderbolts, and got the trade purely because it was the sort of thing I thought Thunderbolts should have been doing from day one.

There's also the cross-referencing - having read Thunderbolts, I wondered what other stuff Ellis had done, and dug into Nextwave - which in turn gave me some experience of Stuart Immonen and thus clinched whether I would buy Ultimate Spider-Man: Death of the Goblin. Etc...

Kevin D. said...

I feel that reading a book for the character is almost as important as reading it for the writer/artist attached. First, even though a writer or artist may bring you onto a character you otherwise may not have known or cared for(ex:Iron Fist pre-Bru&Frac), following a certain favorite character or team may put people onto new talent ( e: Jason Aaron on Wolverine, for all of those who have never read Scalped).

Secondly, reading a certain favorite character makes the reader more invested in the story, in that the reader cares more about what happens to that character and thus what occurs in the story.

Tyler said...

Really like this idea a lot. as for me, Bad art always kills a story for me

Bill said...

Sometimes I think my function is to be the guy that's obligated to suggest Grant Morrison's not all THAT.

And that's a very important function.

Sometimes bad art puts me off a story. But even then it would have to be really, REALLY bad.

I'm pretty much with you on this, but the art can put me off if I can't follow the story. Sometimes I'm looking at a series of beautifully drawn panels and don't have the faintest clue of as to what's going on.

Blake said...

Great, great interview. I do sometimes think that there is a little too much writer worship theses days. these people that will doggedly follow your Morrisons your johns, your Bendises, your Ellises and to a lesser degree your Ruckas, Brubakers, and Whedons.

i loved the comments about still retaining a soft spot for comics from your youth, even though they're sometimes widely panned. When i got back into comics, I spent about 6 months searching through all the Orlando comics shops looking for the late 80's volume 3 relaunch of Green Lantern, because those were the books that I loved as a kid, particularly the post 50 Kyle Rainer hipification of the G.L. franchise). And, after reading it, I can see why a lot of people pan that era of G.L. but I read all 180 issues and loved every last minute of it because it reminded me of why I first loved comics. That also happened to me last Thanksgiving at my parents house, when I found all my old issues of the Maximum Carnage. They were so bad... but so good!

I know that these are are popular writer's that all have fairly positive reputations, but they also seem to be writing a fair amount of the mainstream comics work these days. and a lot of it is good. However, I think that really good books by slightly lesser known creators (think Manhunter, Blue Beetle, the revamped Firestorm, and Kyle Baker's Plastic Man from a few years back) seem to struggle to struggle because people don't want to read books by people that they don't know, because they're afraid that they're not going to like it. So you're left in a situation where good new comics by up and coming writers fail and those writers don't get as much work, and the top tier writers either spread themselves thin writing more books than they can handle, which cause a dip in quality, or we have less comics in the market.

Kirk Warren said...

@rawnzilla - I was actually going to ask you to participate in these guest posts, but couldn't find an email address.

@nathan aaron - So you're the one buying up Ultimates 3! ahah. I'm just kidding as I completely understand. This is a visual medium first and foremost and I often "ignore" the artwork in favour of quality writing, but the writers also benefit from their artists.

For instance, some books have fantastic art, but it's all static and poorly laid out. While great art, it acts as a detriment to the story.

Now take a Mark Bagley or Stuart Immonen, who have underrated artwork compared to the praise heaped on others, and they are two of the best storytellers, despite "only" being artists, in the business. Ultimate Spider-Man is only regarded as so good because of how well these two artists compliment Bendis' scripts with their layouts, expressions and compositions.

Add a generic 90's style artist (no, this isn't a knock at Jim Lee or other Image founders) and it becomes a merely average story, despite having "better" art.

So, I agree that art is a valuable part, but the reason I focus more on writing, personally, is because it's much easier to quantify good writing compared to bad writing. You being an artist probalby don't have as much difficulty with the artwork aspect as others.


@salieri - That's an interesting take on progression instead of merely sheep blindly following. There are very few creators I will buy a book on name power alone and I could count them on one hand.

Howeve,r for as much as I love Thudnerbolts and Nextwave and other Ellis work, I don't fall all over myself when he's attached to new projects, like Astonishing X-Men for instance, which did nothing for me when it was announced nor after reading it. I don't hate Ellis and love his work, but only when it fits my tastes. I won't keep buying Ellis books for his name on the title.

Even Darwyn Cooke, who I adore, doesn't get blind devotion from me. The Spirit does nothing for me as a character (blasphomy, I know), so I didn't buy that series when Cooke was on it. However, I consider New Frontier to be easily one of my top 5 stories ever told and his name always grabs my attention, like the recent Stark book adaptations announced.


@kevin d - Interesting take, but here's my thoughts on importance of the character.

Iron Fist is a horrible 70's kung-fu craze inspired character that runs around in yellow booties and a big yellow collar. Nice cash in at the time on the Bruce Lee's and other kung-fu shows sweeping the nation, but far from the greatest character ever created.

Brubaker and Fraction made his book one of th ebest on the market and somehow managed to make me care about him and his stories.

I feel he's still a terrible character, but characters are only as bad as the people writing them.

Also, nostolgia for "favourite" characters is both good and bad. It makes it easy for people to get in and enjoy the character or have a little vested interest in them, but it stifles creativity. Just look at Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, etc for cyclical storytelling due to the fact everyone is so resistent to change in their "favourite characters".

This is the reason behind Brand New Day, new Year Ones every other Tuesday and other such projects, which I view as a bad thing. But I love me some Spider-Man and couldn't imagine if they kept going with that ridiculous magic totem nonsense JMS was pushing out, so I'm as much a part of the problem as everyone else.


@tyler - Bad art trumps good writing every time. Give me my fav writer and pair him with Rob Liefeld and I don' think I could read that book.


@blake - Ya, I love stuff like Maximum Carnage, the Clone Saga (well, not all of it, but I contest it isn't as bad as most, who have never read it, make it out to be), Onslaught and other 90's stories.

Even 70's and 80's stuff that I picked up in backissues shortly after getting into comics are things I look back on fondly and was one of the reasons I loved the first Spider-Girl series (current one is meh) - for it's ties to history, done in one stories and fun storytelling with just enough modern edge to keep it relevant.


One minor nitpick about your post - Blue Beetle was written by John Rogers, who is a fairly popular television writer. No Joss Whedon, but far from a nobody. DC just failed to make his presence known compared to other big name writers like anyone from Lost or what have you.

Similarly, Marc Andreyko is far from unknown. He was Bendis' originally collaborator on Torso and has won numerous awards, including Harveys and Eisners. Again, I chalk it up to bad PR on DC's part in the promotion of the book.

A simple "By ____ Award winning author, XXXXXX" or "From the writer of the hit TV series, _____" on the book and set up interviews with Newsarama or CBR (I doubt they will turn down interviews with creators and exclusive info, even for lower selling books) would go a long way to pushing these creators and their books and they just don't do it.


The rest of what you say I completely agree with though.

Hikerman said...

Great idea Kirk! I can't wait to see what the future holds for this!

Dave said...

"Comics are getting too expensive to be casual reading any more, though. Most of my sampling these days is done via trade paperbacks on Amazon, because those are great deals. I can justify a used 200-page trade for $7 a lot easier than a 22-page story for $3 or $4."

Amen there.

When the price of admission was $1 I had no problem sampling. As the price started to climb to where it is today, I was sampling less and less.

Right now I'm down to a core handful of titles that I'll stick with.

As much as I'd like to try an indie, small press or self-published title that's just rarer because of the cost involved. I'll gladly grab a trade instead of a single issue.

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