Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A Collection of Random Thoughts, Vol 5

For today, I'll be talking about a potential return of the 90s, more on digital comics, Marvel's Ultimate Collections, Warren Ellis' next project, and even giving out a new Reader Challenge. Read these and more after the jump.

Beards, Bald and Three Names

Something I've noticed is that a lot of good comic book writers are either bald or have a beard. Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Brian Bendis, Matt Fraction (used to have a beard), Ed Brubaker and Warren Ellis are just a few examples.

Another interesting coincidence is the use of three names or initials for popular writers. Brian Michael Bendis? Brian K. Vaughan (BKV), J. Micahel Straczynski (JMS), and so on.

Taking these unique characteristics into account, what would happen if Alan Moore went bald or Morrison grew a beard or each started using their middle initials? Would their writing become so awesome that the universe would implode? If you're an aspiring creator, should you just shave your head, grow a beard and start signing all your work with three names?

House of M is better than Secret Invasion

House of M is a bunch of people talking while Secret Invasion is a bunch of people fighting. Bendis is a better talking head writer than an action/fighting writer. Also, people were not shouting, "Who do you Trust?!", every five minutes in HoM.

Digital Comics Pricing

While Marvel has their Digital Comics Unlimited initiative, which seems to be named only to piss all over any attempt DC might make with the acronym Marvel chose, it's not what I'd call a "real" digital distribution model. When a real digital distribution model does happen, I think Marvel, DC, etc should adopt an iTunes-like system where you pay per issue with prices ranging from $.99 to $1.99 depending on the size.

They would be downloadable for a year after which they would only be available to view through an archive feature and you could no longer purchase them. The archives would have a $5 monthly viewing fee (so Marvel can keep their DCU dealy going) and there would occasionally be a "back issue" sale where selected older issues would be available again to purchase for a limited time, similar to Disney's putting movies in the vault and only having them in print for a limited time before putting them away again.

Ultimate Collections

Starting with Grant Morrison's New X-Men run, Marvel has been releasing "Ultimate" collections of certain comics. So far, all the chosen titles for these collections have received critical acclaim or have been labelled "fan favorites". The next round of titles set for this format include Alias, Exiles and JMS's Amazing Spider-Man.

I love the idea and here is a list of runs I'd like to see collected. I would not necessarily buy or even like all of these runs, but I think they do deserve the treatment none the less.
  • Daredevil by Brian Bendis and Alex Maleev
  • Powers by Brian Bendis and Michael Oeming
  • Black Panther by Christopher Priest
  • Punisher MAX by Garth Ennis
  • Avengers by Kurt Busiek
  • Fantastic Four by Mark Waid
  • X-Force/X-Statix by Peter Milligan and Mike Allred

An Odd Character/Writer Combo I'd Like to See.

Grant Morrison writing The Hulk. Why? Quite honestly, just to see what the hell he would do with it. I assume it would be incredibly bizarre and trippy given the nature of the Hulk and how personality, the idea of "self," related ideas and occasionally memory are part of the core concept of the character.

Warren Ellis Apologizes In Advance

What "Fan Favorite" Really Means...

Marvel and DC like to throw around the term "fan favorite" when promoting lower tier books. Like most marketing gimmicks, the term gets misused a lot. The fan base of whatever "fan favorite" book or writer that get labeled as such are generally pretty small. In fact, that character/team are rarely able to support an ongoing over a long period of time. When talking about "fan favorite" creators, as people do on occasion, they generally have a solid fan base, but they rarely give a book a substantial sales bump, if any at all. They also do not sell comics in significant quantities either.

Actual "fan favorites" are characters like Spider-Man, Batman, and Wolverine,or creators like Jeph Loeb, Brian Bendis and Grant Morrison. Tossing it on books such as Spider-Girl, Captain Britain and MI13, Secret Six, Manhunter and so on is all well and good, but typically only a marketting term. High selling titles are just as much "fan favourites" as these low selling books.

Harbinger of the 90's Return

People like to talk about how DC is trying to bring back the Silver Age or make exaggerated claims, like saying all of their writers are Silver Age fanboys, and what have you - you know the drill and have read the nonsense on forums.

What they fail to realize is that, five to ten years down the road, the people who grew up reading comics in the 1990s are going to start writing and guiding the future of comics for both Marvel and DC. In fact, some are already there. Skottie Young credits Image Comics in the 90's for turning him onto comics.

It's kind of of hard to know exactly what this 90's reader driven mentality will look like, but I think a prime example of this, for better or for worse, would be Robert Kirkman's work on Invincible. It's bloody, over the top and full of "hardcore" Marvel and DC analogues and embodies the spirit of the 90's while combining the 00's decompressed storytelling in my eyes. Another good example is the resurgence of books like X-Force, which are filled with 90's continuity and is a relaunch of a 90's comic in all it's bloody, popular anti-hero filled glory.

The final sign that the 90's generation is starting to come to power is the return of variants and other gimmicks, like constant relaunches and renumberings, that are beginning to show up every other month now.

Comic Book Numbering

Speaking of renumbering gimmicks, recently, with all of Marvel's "original" renumbering, there has a been some online discussion about comic book numbering/renumbering. To me, it honestly doesn't matter and never did. The numbers are for collectors or promotion purposes. Number ones and anniversary numbers simply sell more, both of which I could care less about. The number's are basically meaningless and are generally inflated to be something important when they are not and I think the whole debate is a non-issue that people are blowing out of proportion.

Outlaw Comics

New comic book companies are rarely a big deal nowadays, for a variety of reasons, but I though I would point one out - Outlaw Comics.

The reason why I'm pointing them out? They are only making graphic novels (ie will not publish any monthly single issues). Their books will be 112 pages for $8, which is a better deal than most single issues can offer.

An article on Newsarama will give you the basics about the company and they seem like they know what they are doing from what little I've seen so far. The people in charge of their publishing division, Tony Hobdy and Rick A. Villa, have a lot of experience in the marketing and branding side of things, so it looks like they won't have the problem of people not knowing about their books, as is so often a problem with non-Marvel and DC companies. Adaptations into other media are also part of their plans, but it doesn't look like the books are created specifically to be adapted into stuff like movies, like with Radical Comics.

Their first titles are set to be released in June and there will be three of them: Praetorian, Hat Trick and Imaginary Friends. There is info on the books in both the Newsarama article and their website (found here, but it's still in beta). There is also a fourth book listed on their website, Jenna Blue, but no info about the title is given.

Reader Challenge - Write About Comics

One of the interesting things that I found out through blogging about comics is that it made me a better comic book reader or, more specifically, better at choosing which comics to read. Writing what I liked and disliked about each comic I read allowed me to better understand what I wanted from them and what I eventually got out of them.

When you start objectively looking at what you are reading, it's a lot harder to keep justifying the purchase of a comic you continuously find yourself writing negatively about or finding numerous flaws in whenever you write about it. It becomes much easier to drop a comic due to quality and to resist the urge to keep buying to 'complete a run' or whatever other excuse many people use to convince themselves to keep buying a book they dislike.

I'm not saying you should start up a blog or write 1000 word essays every week, but, at the very least, try to write down what you liked and disliked about the comics you read in any given week or participate and express yourself in comments on your favourite blogs or messageboards. Try to talk about the writing, the art, the story, the characters, etc. and what you loved or hated about a given issue, even if it's only to give a general score or one or two line 'loved it/hated it' type of response.

The simple act of objectively looking at what you just read can do wonders for adding enjoyment to what you just read or help you understand why you liked or disliked the book and, in part, lead you to dropping a comic due to acknowledging the bad parts of it or picking up a new one by recognizing the things you like in other books in the writing, themes or even creators attached to another book that you never considered before.

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Andrenn said...

This was great. Now about 90's writing, I confess that I am not only a child of the 90's but also one who wishes to write comics. I'm waiting a while, still developing my writing and trying to learn all I can before I throw my hat into the ring. But as someone who grew up with the 90's style of comics I'd like to hope I am beyond that and would still be able to write an entertaining book despite the decade in which I was born.

I would like to see an ultimate collection of more obscure books like the old 2003 Venom series. Not a lot of people liked it as much as I did but I found it to be a blast.

You make a great point about readers writing about comics. Since I started actually reviewing comics it's become much easier to drop the ones that I don't like. I used to be a completest, insisting I read the entire run even if it sucks. But as time went on I realized if I'm not enjoying a book I don't need to read it, hell, that fact is what helped me drop Timestorm just recently.

Kirk Warren said...

If I ever get into writing, I'll have to go by KVW and shave my head again. As I'm a late 80's/early 90's kid, if I start writing, my first task will be to bring back impact webbing and stingers for Spider-Man. I'll then have a Citizen V and the V Battalion series in a similar vein to Secret Warriors, but with Zemo as their villain. It will be glorious!

Anonymous said...

Kirk, where have you been...Marvel's "Ultimate" (aka Omnibus) collections have been out for years. They're already done Bendis's Alias and Daredevil, as well as Burbank's Captian America (well, at least half his run). They're huge, unwieldly, glorious books full of win.

Kirk Warren said...

Eric wrote this post, but Eric doesn't contradict what you say (well, Alias was limited print and getting a reprint if I'm not mistaken, so technically up next). He's just commenting on what he'd like to see next.

Marc said...

I'm a product of the 90's in a lot of ways, but interestingly enough, the first comics I can remember reading are Marvel Masterworks editions of the original Lee/Ditko Spider-Man books and the Lee/Kirby run on Fantastic Four. It wasn't until much later that I started reading modern comics on a regular basis.

For me, the Silver Age has always represented the heart and soul of comics, and I think it's really sad that so many people today haven't experienced those stories.

Anonymous said...

Well, i have to strongly dissagree with bendis being a good writer.... hes bald and a dutchbag... i know hes good on writing hes "solo" things, author books (like powers), but hes not good when mess everything up with years of continuity, or well knows characters... and beside the fact hes a hungry for atention and sales numbers....

Kirk Warren said...

@Anonymous - I don't think disliking Bendis' writing should warrant personal insults to him as a person. I've never seen him outright insult people or act like he's better than anyone or show any kind of "sales number" mentality before.

Inf act, the only thing I could really associate him with is his dislike of late books, which he's commented on publically before, and I actuallya gree with him about it.

Check out his Ultimate SPider-Man, Alias, Daredevil or Powers or even early work, like Torso or Sam and Twitch, before outright declaring how much you hate him, as a person, or sound off about him being a terrible writer. I dislike a lot of his current New Avengers and event / mainstream work, but it doesnt take away from the fact he is a capable writer.

ComicsAllTooReal's Chris said...

I have a little trouble understanding Marvel's digital comic initiative. With the current one, you pay to have access to their on-line library (which is a "thanks, but no thanks"), yet they refuse to bring in the digital format entirely as fans like them: downloadable files. I know, I know, the piracy, and all that, but it's not as if it already doesn't exist. At least the music industry found a way to make the web profitable. The comic book one has yet to learn.

Kelson said...

I've only really read Bendis on Alias, Powers, and the first few issues of The Pulse (not that it lasted much longer), so really I've only read him when he's writing his own material or off in a corner of a shared universe.

I actually dropped Powers for a while when the issues were coming out once every 8 months, and figured if I was going to wait that long between installments, I'd just get the trades and have a complete story each time. I picked up the latest collection on FCBD, opened it to look at a few pages, and couldn't put it down.

Matt Ampersand said...

ComicsAllTooReal's Chris, I totally agree with you. The only way I would buy the subscription service would be if it provided the comics that come out every week (hell, a week or two later is fine by me). Doing that would probably destroy a lot of their singles sales, so I don't see it happening any time soon.

Klep said...

Frankly Marvel's DCU isn't targeted at long-time comics readers. It's much more targeted towards people like myself, who only started reading stuff recently. You don't get anything out of them posting stuff that was printed 6 months ago because you already picked it up in the store back then. I didn't pick it up then so it's still new to me. Furthermore, long-time readers probably already have a lot of the stuff available online (or at least, that of it that they want) in their personal libraries. For me and others like me, the Digital Comics library IS my personal library.

As far as making the web profitable, I can't imagine it's very hard for Marvel to make money off of the digital comics service. Their only continuing costs would be server upkeep and whatever it takes to convert the two dozen or so comics they put up each week to their flash reader. I haven't seen figures for how well it's doing anywhere, but if they weren't pleased with it I imagine they'd be doing a lot more experimenting with the service rather than just expanding content.

Eric Rupe said...

Kirk - Totally agree with the impact webbing. Sad that it went away.

Anonymous - The Ultimate Collections are NOT the same thing as the Omnibus collections. The Omnibus collections are massive hardcovers that have 20 to 40 issues in them and cost around $75 to $100. The Ultimate Collections are trades that have around 14 issues in them and cost $35.

ComicsAllTooReal's Chris - Yeah, I'm kind of baffled by it as well. It seems like Marvel is a little over protective of their stuff, which I can understand to a degree, but, at the same time, they are fighting against the inevitable. I'm surprised that Image or Dark Horse hasn't beaten them with downloadable issues yet actually.

Anonymous said...

It should be noted that some of the wished Ultimate books mentioned have already been done, ex; Milligan/Allred's X-Statix which sits on my bookshelf now. Also, I think the "Ultimate" hardcovers actually started with Ultimate Spider-Man. I know I have a couple of those as well.

And I thought there already was a digital distribution model. Called DC++ and its associated hubs.

Eric Rupe said...

Anonymous - X-Statix hasn't been collected in a Ultimate Collection yet. The first Marvel did was for Morrison's New X-Men. Here is a link the ones for JMS's ASM and Alias. They are not Hardcovers, they are regular trade paperbacks.

ShadowWing Tronix said...

Wowio seems to have a good model. You can read for free (ad-sponsored), or pay to download (sometimes also free via sponsors, but mostly the reader pays). I'm not sure if it's working, and I liked it better when it was free, with ads stuck in during the download.

I, for one, don't plan to shave my head or get a beard (my hair grows back too fast as it is, and I don't even look good with a mustache since I started wearing glasses), and my real last name is a bit long as it is. (Plus people get the spelling wrong, and it's not even that difficult a name.)

Anonymous said...

no news about the deadpool movie?

Kirk Warren said...

It was just announced today, well after this post was published.

Anonymous said...

Eric: Ah, you never mentioned that the Ultimate collections are paperbacks. It looks like thay are just redoing the hardbacks in tpb form, since all those mentioned have been released that way originally. Are they oversized, like the original hardback editions? That would be an interesting size for a tpb.

And as an ULTIMATE book hardcover or otherwise, Ultimate Spider-Man was released before New X-Men.

Steven R. Stahl said...

"I dislike a lot of his current New Avengers and event / mainstream work, but it doesnt take away from the fact he is a capable writer."

Capable in what respects, when not writing within his favorite genre? If someone were to misspell about 30 percent of the words in a story, would you argue that that's not so bad, that a reader can still figure out what he's writing about if he works a bit -- and anyway, his characterization of Spider-Man hits the mark?

Bendis's plotting errors and instances of mischaracterization (Wanda, Dr. Strange) are so frequent and basic that they're in the same class as spelling errors, for all practical purposes. It would be better to acknowledge that, and figure out why he remains popular, than to dismiss criticism as "dislike."


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