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Return of the Knave
Drink It Black
Saturday, 6 June 2009
Quaff medicine
Mood:  party time!
Now Playing: Jane said

Hack into the industry itself and a carelessness so often abounds. Publishers copy a format without being able to discern the essential element that makes it a success and end up, in extreme cases, poisoning the ouevre they invade. Writers do inferior retellings of past glories for characters who have no more stories left in them, or no longer fit the temper of the times. Pencillers xerox Kirby before going on to exaggerate the muscles and weapons even further, creating a parodic slush of heroics. Colourists look all washed out and inkers draw too much shadow. Editors bastardise the lot and are out by happy hour.

It is is a medium that is no less prey to indifference than any other. Comics may have come into their own as mainstream entertainment (if in transmuted form), but that means they are up there with ghastly blockbusters and bestsellers; along with artistic works that satisfy on many levels.


Posted by berko_wills at 12:38 AM NZT
Updated: Saturday, 13 June 2009 4:45 AM NZT
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Monday, 23 March 2009
Cork age

You may think that a comic collector is as likely to pull that rare edition out of its Mylar snug to read, as a coin collector is to use change from their collection to buy a pint of milk, or a stamp collector is to whack that Penny Black on a letter to family. There is that attitude, but comic collectors aren't exclusively speculative or precious in the way they behave.

Gradually accruing more kitcsh surrounding a beloved character while reading less of their adventures doesn't happen often. If you really love a character, you'll queue for the movie and wear the t-shirt.

There is that version of the collector who ends up having to trawl for cardboard cutouts of the character they've chosen to collect that would otherwise not be likely to find a place in the rumpus room.

Readers are neither as fixated or loyal as collectors. They'll snap up the stories they want to read (and re-read) and they'll smartly drop a book at the first sign of trouble.

Buyers need not show that much interest. As long as they don't confuse  Cherry with Cherry Poptart  there should be no harm done.*

The intended reader knows it's fantasy. Cyclops may have cool powers but he was born that way through a genetic deviation. And 'wearing rose coloured glasses' was only ever intended as a metaphor - you wouldn't really like having a permanent red mist before your eyes. I also think that having powers like that almost requires that you have someone like Brotherhood of Evil Mutants on the opposing side - destructive eyebeams may not give Aung San Suu Kyi her rightful leadership of Burma any more than existing weaponry.

[*whoops!]

The seller can be counting his stock and almost divorced from the excitement of waiting for the next issue (other than the fact that this is when he will make his money), provided he knows the difference between Felix the Cat and Fritz the Cat. Whatever incidental example a character like the Beast proves to be, with his combination of rough exterior and loquatiousness, the business of telling a good story is the main thing required.

That is adopting the principle that a readership will gravitate toward quality storytelling, which is not the sole reason for the reader, less so the buyer.


Posted by berko_wills at 2:55 PM NZT
Updated: Tuesday, 12 May 2009 11:23 PM NZT
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Sunday, 22 February 2009
Bottled up
Now Playing: The Coral

You can find collectors among the other print media but there needs to be some cult of personality at work to increase the interest in any one publication.

Age is a factor as antiquarian bookshops attest. They often sell antique magazines, pamphlets and posters along with the books. And I have seen newspapers but you'd have to have a good basement and a patient partner to keep them long enough to become collectable.

Newspapers are more of interest to historians, researchers, and Barbier enthusiasts (in those art/icles on the founder of art deco) than to collectors.

Of course one could collect a writer or illustrator, a photographer, who worked in newspapers but it would be easier to collect magazines and journals with their featured writers than searching through old newsprint for a byline.

Special interest magazines lend themselves to certain art styles. There's artists like Norman Rockwell whose work is tied to an editorial imperative for catchy covers with heartwarming themes but many other artists found steady commercial work in monthly publications. While one could collect gazettes by their contributors, the more common collection is a complete run of one publication.

Some forms of narrative are, by their nature, ephemeral; you really had to be there. It is entertainment that can only be echoed in ticket stubs and souvenirs.

As time goes on there are many more ways of 'preserving the moment for posterity' though, unfortunately, there are films and television programs for which there are no surviving copies and recordings that are exceedingly rare. This, naturally, only makes them more attractive to the collector.

Posted by berko_wills at 4:42 PM EADT
Updated: Sunday, 8 March 2009 10:42 PM NZT
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Saturday, 10 January 2009
Collection at a bottleneck

A collection is really all the crap you got and stuffed into a box and felt good that you had it. It isn't necessarily something you think about much or pull out very often. But it has a value, an ever accruing sentimental value.

What that does to the care with which you backboarded or plastic sheaved is for you to determine.  But it it is good that there are nerds or geeks or whatever else they call the (inadvertent?) collector preserving these things for posterity.

One day a museum is going to pore over our quaint customs and researchers are going to seriously question our ways. We do it to previous generations so why should things be any different then. But that's no reason to trash our art or burst our bubble.

II

Comics are another artform, publication, pop culture item, work, product, item, reading matter, sequential narrative, that people like to collect. They've become moreso with a change in generational attitude (just chill, man) and the sophistication of the graphic art medium. 

This applies to superhero sagas as much as prison camp dramas or densely realist vignettes. Fans have a say in whom they make their idols in the production department. That's if they aren't too busy drooling over the characters to pay the technicians sufficient mind.

Older stories are of interest for their very antiquity. Perhaps a pre-code appearance of a cherished character or the first use of the villain growing to an enormous size.

 Fans who have been accumulating comic books will know the books to collect from a certain writer or artist. (I guess it would be possible to collect inkers, though probably not anyone else whose name appears in the credit of the comic itself, unless they also happen to be writers or artists as well).

Great storylines ensure that collectors take an interest in a certain company. It's more the publications they produce and the characters they feature, certainly, but a brand loyalty is engendered just as surely. It's Harvey league stuff sometimes but the collector market doesn't discriminate as online auctions have proven only too well. 

 III

 What's the difference between a collectible and a collector's item? The first is more ostentatious in presenting itself as something you might want to keep - preferably in the box. 

A collector's item often only becomes so over time, not just because of its increasing age, but because it is all the better for not being self-conscious. Those holograph covers and crossovers and extravaganzas and anniversary issues are all well and good, but there is an oversubscription from amateur collectors who don't realise these things can't be wholly engineered.

You can buy a series that begins again from number one if you want but I find the corners of comic collecting are where to find the still interesting stuff.

 


Posted by berko_wills at 1:28 AM EADT
Updated: Sunday, 1 February 2009 2:38 AM EADT
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Wednesday, 10 December 2008
Knocking it back
Now Playing: Bob Dylan theme time radio

One thing you can't get on subscription (or in some smaller stores) are back issues

You're going to want back issues if you start reading and collecting comics seriously. You don't want holes in your collection and, if you're a fan rather than just a hobbyist, you'll want to read the earlier stories first. Even with the fashion for retconning, there are themes and plots developed over a series; having the older books from a series fills in the gaps in more ways than one.

What constitutes a back issue though? Catwoman has been around since 1940 but, with her many revamps, those earliest stories have little or no bearing on the character as you see her today. Batman #1 is a collector's item more than a back issue. And a 'back issue' for a character can't include a first appearance in someone else's title. Can it?

The long running Cerebus the Aardvark can be said to have back issues as it is one diverting arc running over years. It is either the character or the series that can be said to have back issues, not the auteur nor the publisher. Which is not to say you won't hunt down back issues that feature a certain run on a book.

But it isn't just the vintage of a book that determines its back issue status. Archie Comics Digest is hardly a 'back issue' if its stories are stand-alone. It's not as if the characters age, so the emphasis is on gags, not development.

Generic titles and generic books confuse the issue as they have back-up or short stories that start and finish at different times. There are golden age cases of the feature character swapping with the fashion or the times, sometimes losing a place in the book altogether.

Generally however I'd class Valiant as having back issues


Posted by berko_wills at 1:55 PM EADT
Updated: Thursday, 1 January 2009 1:46 AM EADT
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Sunday, 23 November 2008
Cool dark place

What do you do if your country is lacking in comics middlemen? What if they don't carry your favourite? Or they do but sell out before you get there? Or take forever to get in? Don't worry, friends, there's a solution. No local merchant is required when there are subscriptions available from the publishing company direct.

This is fine if you're following one company's titles exclusively - and I've been mainly DC and mainly Marvel at different points in my life - but becomes less convenient if your pull list includes She-Hulk and Sabrina the Teenage Witch.

Many subscription deals ask for a minimum order and you could find yourself adding a series that you wouldn't otherwise buy. And it doesn't allow you the flexibility of dropping or picking up a book at your own discretion.

But it does make you a subscriber. Listen for the postie, won't you.


Posted by berko_wills at 12:03 AM EADT
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Wednesday, 22 October 2008
Duty free
Now Playing: the Fugs

Chances are your first comics were bought for you. You liked what you saw and started spending your own pocket money. At some point you routinely bought 30-60 comics a month once you were working your first temp job and, with that and all the new music, it's a wonder you ever found time for romance. Still, real sex proved a better diversion and the trips to the comic book specialty shop were conducted inbetween and with not quite the same geekish resolve.

Then, when responsibilities arose and other priorities took the place of (gasp) penny dreadfuls, your actual consumption dropped down to a half dozen or less, enthusiastically followed. You grabbed rare moments of pleasure in second hand book stores. The narrowing focus forced you to take a more critical eye over your collection. Not to sell anything off, necessarily, but decide which stories you prefer, which characters you like to read about, which issues are best to collect, which writer and artist is working on that particular run..

But you're not the only one buying comics, and that's just as well. They were originally only sold in milk bars and drug stores. This meant that only the most popular titles would be widely available, as rack space was limited. Even in newsagencies there would be a representative sample of action, romance, teen humour, war and western (depending on the era) so this, with a lack of specialist expertise on the part of the proprietor and a lack of investment in watching for related titles to complete a crossover saga (for example), made the rise of the comic shop inevitable.

And, yes, a 'newbie' could venture into a comic store and find a welcome. But without those other vendors including the books among their stock, there may never have been enough customers to keep them in print. 

II

You can tell the comic book buyer by other means, perhaps, but not strictly by the titles they purchase at any given time. Walk out carrying Amazing Spider-Man and you could be buying it for your nephew, casual purchaser who likes the films, casual purchaser who'd rather read that than some of the other rubbish on the stand, Spidey fan of old, Marvel zombies of yore gnashing your teeth determined to keep the collection complete but not exactly liking it. Walk out carrying Concrete or Bone and you're in a cooler store. Maybe one that has maraccas and goathair scarves hanging from the walls.

If you're as indiscriminate - or should that be broadminded - as I once was, you'll happily sample the more esoteric offerings along with the mainstream purchases.


Posted by berko_wills at 12:02 AM NZT
Updated: Friday, 14 November 2008 2:15 PM EADT
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Sunday, 12 October 2008
Opening the seller
Now Playing: Psycroptic

You get your amateurs and your professionals in any business. It starts with the schoolyard comic swap and winds up in a comic warehouse. Pretty soon your hobby has become an expensive or lucrative (depending on which side of the counter you happen to be) pastime and you're there with your reserve price for that near mint edition Exciting Comics #1 .

If you want to remain anonymous or small time then just offload a few of your doubles on eBay or, if you fancy competing against an established, if niche, market then you're better to specialise. King's Comics and Comic Kingdom leave no room for jesters on Sydney real estate, The Land Beyond Beyond being long gone and the Phantom Zone further west.

Who says you need a shop though? You can operate from home by mail order or, assuming you're not a luddite,  put up a webpage. You can sell random 'finds' after you've read them, through an ad in the local paper, or via a free online classified. If you're feeling generous, you can leave the occasional crumpled comic in the backpacker's hostel [card with web address discreetly stapled to the inside back cover optional].

If there are comics you just want to get rid of, sell them at jumble sale or fete.

If you want to sell the art of Gary Frank or the stories of Peter David, you need to have an organised supply. Their output must still be available at a competitive price as they are working artists but constructing a sales showcase around their work is another matter.


Posted by berko_wills at 2:02 AM NZT
Updated: Saturday, 18 October 2008 2:44 AM NZT
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Saturday, 13 September 2008
Interactive
Now Playing: Robots in Disguise

As much as comics and games have a symbiotic relationship, each borrowing and profiting from the other, I don't know that extends to saying they have interchangeable talents working on them.

What would you have gotten Kurt Schaffenberger to do, drawing in games? His Superman art is, strangely for an action character, suited to depictions of down home folk. It was an era that a modern Lois was referring to when she mock derisively called Clark 'Smallville'.

There again, there will always be work for skilled and versatile artists and Schaffenberger was of the old school who worked where he could find it. Comics loss would have been games's gain if he had been young enough to engage with the fledgling behemoth.

And as for writers, they observe similarity of plots for both media. A protagonist making his/her way through the landscape, encountering obstacles, battling adversaries. The 'story' is not one with an excess of diversions or personal reflection. But then think of Bruce Jones run on Incredible Hulk. Another overt action character here used in introspective psychodramas unsuited to a gaming scenario. 

There's probably even a school of thought that says that the best characters in games are the ones with cool powers or who operate within a challenging and interesting terrain

 More the characters of comics than the characters of books.

 

And still some things don't translate.

Posted by berko_wills at 2:21 AM NZT
Updated: Sunday, 21 September 2008 5:57 PM NZT
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Thursday, 4 September 2008
Palate
Now Playing: Grizzly Bear

Thanks to Johan for rescuing me from a rare case of writer's block. My gaming expertise petered out some time round the era of Galaga and Elevator Action.

It's safe to say that, even at their peak, comics could not compare to the $57 billion video game industry. It's more in the vicinity of $700 million, which is still alright when you consider how many times the death knell has been prematurely rung on the medium but scale.

 That being the case, game creators also stand to make greater profits than comics creators. Though, balanced against that is the fact that a much larger team works on the top line games now. And they spend a longer time in development; there's more money exchanging hands in the chain from developer to final consumer here than in any comparable commercial artform, with the possible exception of motion picture production.  But there's no accounting for taste so let's move on.

Gamewriters and artists are an 'increasingly essential component' to the finished product/artwork but are they work for hire? Well, they have a union.

Games designers and gamers are nonetheless enamored of comic book concepts and, no doubt, comic sales will be fleetingly boosted by each comic-based game that becomes popular. And why wouldn't the people who work on a game project take an interest in their 2-D compatriots.

Common to both media is the fact that yer basic mass produced item (count the print run) at its final stages is wrapped in plastic and put on a shelf. Every so often, regardless of the development costs or time invested, a Gameboy game will end up with the same ugly Texta markdown - on the plastic bag if you're lucky - as the cheaper and less widespread comic book that went off the boil, or was overstocked.


Posted by berko_wills at 3:43 PM NZT
Updated: Saturday, 6 September 2008 5:06 AM NZT
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