Friday, March 26, 2004

Notable Links for 03/26

I have joined the 20th century. Due to overwhelming reader requests, I have installed one of them Atom syndicated feed thingies over there to the left. I don't know what it is, really, or how to use it, but if you want to read this blog on your cell-phone, I guess this is your lucky day. Never let it be said that I am not responsive to the demands of the hip young youth of America. Also, you probably did not notice this but I finally installed a site counter/tracker - there's a little banner ad at the bottom of the page so I don't have to pay for anything. Now I can see all of you! You're out there! I know you are!

In perusing the internet, my wife found this. I wouldn't reccomend watching from work, but it is definitely worth watching. It's amazing to consider that the internet has already been around long enough to feel nostalgic for the days of animated .gifs and crappy midi music files. It's a joke, but it's also kind of affecting in a strange, strange way.

Or I'm just insane, always a distinct possibility.

Anyway, yesterday I posted a link to this essay by Franklin Harris on the nature of superhero dominion in the direct market. I said something to the effect that it was a pretty decent try but he was missing a couple important facts that mooted his argument. I try not to be too mean about these things, you know? These disagreements can get pretty heated sometimes and despite the fact that I have different opinions than a great many of you I try to present them in as polite and concise a manner as possible. I've lived through many flame wars, I don't like them. Nowadays, I tend to just turn off my computer when they happen. Consequently, I am also perhaps a bit less harsh in this context than I would be if, say, I were writing for The Journal.

But Mr. Tom Spurgeon has no such qualms. In case you didn't know, he's a long-time contributor and former managing editor for the Comics Journal. He's also the co-author (along with Jordan Raphael) of pretty much the definitive book (so far) on Stan Lee. He's also someone who remains on very familiar and even affectionate terms with a great deal of the mainstream's output. He's a man who needs no introduction (although I've already wrote one), and when a letter from him shows up in my inbox I pay attention.

Let's get one thing straight: he knows a lot more about the way mainstream comics do business than either you or I. There's no debating this, just get over it. And when he says Franklin Harris is wrong, and not only that but articulates it in a much more cogent and authoritative fashion than I could ever dream, I think you should pay attention too:

"I’m not really all that into the whole superheroes vs. non-superheroes on-line blogger quasi-debate – I think all you guys are a bit guilty of sloppy argumentation, particularly when it comes to matching up like concepts for comparison – (Oh, yeah, that's us in a nutshell - Tim) but I have to admit I’m paying some attention to it because I’m going to start writing about superheroes for the Journal this summer. But really, this piece you quote here is close to insane, and you're not nearly hard enough on it:

"...there is no evidence of this. Indeed, the evidence is the opposite. When publishers release more and more superhero comics, other superhero comics tend to get squeezed out, but that's all."

"I’m not even sure where to begin.

"I guess the first thing would be to point out something that should be self-evident, that by investing a company’s resources in one genre over all others you’re not investing those resources on other genres of comics. Most other genres have been effectively “squeezed out” at mainstream companies for years and years.

"Second, and I think you may hint at this, by releasing more and more superhero comics the companies enable a system of sales where virtually nothing but superhero comics are sold in a vast majority of that system’s retail outlets. Most genres are 'squeezed out' of these stores in a very real way. (So we have a situation like today, where the direct market as such is basically the super-hero comics market - no more, no less. I don't think you can really blame most retailers for this, because they order what will sell, and they've been taught by years and years of market 'wisdom' that nothing but super-heroes even belong in the direct market. Of course, those retailers that actively discourage alt- and art- comics buyers are just suicidal - Tim)

"Third, both Marvel and DC have used the release of more and more superhero comics as an intentional ploy to rid the shelves of other comic books. I attended a Marvel sales meeting in 1995 where their direct pitch was, “We will give you more product to sell that actually sells and you can rid your shelves of all this other worthless garbage.' Alternative and arts comics were specifically singled out as drags on shelf space and retailer energy. (Considering what most stores specialize in, that is true on a very basic level... if you are a super-hero store you would probably suffer if you ordered non-super-hero books. Just common sense, also something of a tautology... - Tim)

"Fourth, all of the superhero-dominated companies have used their place of dominance in the business to solidify their percentages in a way that’s hostile to many of those who wanted to sell something else. This is a vast, multi layered argument, but for a start look at the fact there were three or four self-published non-superhero modest hits in the couple of years before the distributor wars and ask yourself how many there have been in its wake. (Well, perhaps self-publishing is kind of a dodo at this point anyway... perhaps, to play the devil's advocate, it would be better to look at something like "30 Days of Night" or "Johnny The Homicidal Maniac" - both very successful through the direct market, both "indie" but neither "self" published - Tim)

"I know that a lot of this sounds like I’m indicting the companies rather than the genre, but really I’m indicting both. Here it is in a nutshell: maximizing the sales of a specific sub-genre of fantasy is often fundamentally antagonistic to goals that depend on cultivating a general readership. This is a more pernicious problem in comics than it is in other media because the sub-genre of choice has a unique appeal to a lot of Americans and because the people servicing the industry side of things are, in part because of the values imparted on them through the body of literature, willing to debase themselves in a way that helps keep some larger economic levers at bay. The retardation factor of the over-emphasis on superheroes is a big reason why it’s so startling when something happens outside of it that indicates that sales are to be had elsewhere – the underground boom, which petered out for structural reasons; the rise of humor strip collections in the 1980s; manga and bookstore sales of loftier comics works now. All of these things hint at a general appetite that was not being met by the more ingrained, ongoing and intensive market."

Well, I couldn't have said it better myself. I would go one step further, though, and repeat what I have always maintained: the direct market will not exist in ten years, at least not in its current shrinking and unstable form. It's just not a viable model for long-term success, or even long-term survival. It's a war of attrition, and every year more people decide they don't want to read superheroes anymore. That's just the facts of life. Of course, the medium has rarely if ever been in a better place (the general torpor of strip cartooning notwithstanding) - and comics are selling like literal hotcakes every place but the direct market. If I were a retailer or a publisher, I'd be working on ways to shore up my business in preparation for the next market contractions. Fantagraphics has "Peanuts"... what about you?

* Marc-Oliver Frisch, writing for The Pulse, has DC's comparative sales numbers for the month of February 2004 here. The numbers, as always, courtesy of ICV2.

* "THE police investigation into defamatory and offensive cartoons featuring four Wollongong [Australia] councillors and the general manager Rod Oxley has stalled because of a lack of evidence. The politically-motivated cartoons contain allegations of sexual impropriety and corruption and have been widely circulated since they appeared a month ago. They have been sent to business-people, the media, councillors and some residents and were timed to have maximum impact before tomorrow's elections." Read more here, courtesy of the Illawarra Mercury.

* "An International Republic Cartoon Contest is scheduled to be organized as part of the celebrations marking the 80th anniversary of the Republic of Turkey." Read more about the contest here, courtesy of the Azer News.

* "Source Interlink, the nation's largest direct-to-retail magazine fulfillment distribution company, today announced an agreement with Marvel Comics to distribute comics to the major bookstore chains. Source Interlink plans to distribute comic titles including Ultimate Spider-Man, The Uncanny X-Men, The Incredible Hulk, Daredevil, Captain America, and others to Barnes & Noble, Borders, B. Dalton Booksellers, Waldenbooks, and other specialty retailers." Read more here, courtesy of ICV2.

* "For the second year in a row, a University of Hawai'i newspaper cartoonist has run afoul of both the campus' Board of Publications and members of the public, some of whom say that some of his cartoons have racist overtones. The Board of Publications asked the editor of Ka Leo O Hawai'i last week to suspend publishing cartoons by Casey Ishitani while an investigation is under way. Ka Leo editor Lori Ann Saeki complied, and cartoons stopped appearing." Read more here, courtesy of the Honolulu Advertiser.

* "Good books work on many levels. But how many levels can we find in a children’s book using only 50 different words, Dr Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham? Or The Cat in the Hat, with 220? Far more than you would imagine, is the answer. That is the genius of the Dr who was never a doctor, Seuss whose name was not Seuss, (and should rhyme with 'voice,' but never does) and a children’s writer who hated children and never had any. 'You have ’em, I’ll amuse ’em,' he said." Read more here, courtesy of

* Did you know that pro golfer Steve Elkington was apparently an amateur cartoonists as well? Yes, its officially a "slow news day" here at the ol' Hurting. Read more about it here, courtesy of Golfweb.

* The Oregonian takes yet another look back at Matt Groening and Lynda Barry's recent lecture/presentation as part of the Portland Arts & Lectures Series here.

* I missed this: apparently Drawn & Quareterly has three big artist signing/appearances coming up in Toronto and Montreal. If I were Canadian, I'd be there. Courtesy of the Journal board.

* I somehow missed Chris Allen's Breakdowns this week. I guess the fact that it's not posted weekly has kind of thrown me - I keep thinking "didn't it just come out last week?" and lo and behold it will be new. Go figure. But he's always worth reading, even if the majority of his reviews are skim-worthy, the criticism and commentary is mostly top-notch (although I could have lived without the indlgent Publisher Report Card altogether, but that's just me). Link courtesy of Move Poop Shoot.

* Mr. Allen also posts a link to this webcomic, which he labels as the worst of all time. You know, reading through this self-indulgent mess, I find it hard to disagree... this cartoonist has some serious issues and I would suggest that the internet is perhaps not the best place to deal with them. Kudos for some interesting use of photo montage, however.

* The Nashville City Paper has an interview with the other member of the "Phantom Jack" creative team, penciller Mitchell Breitweiser, here.

* "Project Linus 'blanketeers' across the region are stitching and sewing their hearts out - all for the love of children. Thursday, the Wichita County chapter of Project Linus recognized its members - or 'blanketeers' - and the children they help. Project Linus is named after the famous Peanuts comic strip character and his faithful blanket and is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to providing security, comfort and love to children who are seriously ill, traumatized or in need." Read more here, courtesy of the Times Record News.

* On April 1, cartoonists Gary Panter, Peter Bagge and Jessica Abel will sign copies of their books following a panel discussion at 4:30 p.m. at the Wexner Center For the Arts, Ohio. If I lived in Ohio, I'd be there. Yo. Here's more (scroll down a bit), courtesy of This Week News.

* David Fiore is shocked to agree with me again - and while I appreciate the sentiment, I don't necessarily agree with his thoughts on political satire and art. I'd argue that the distinction is ultimately immaterial, and almost smacks of some kind of high-art/low-art false dialectic. Of course, I may simply be misunderstanding... The Forager has some more comments about my comments about superheroes here. I am starting to tire of this topic again... what can I say?

You either want to believe that "X-Men" is endowed with great metaphorical significance or you want to believe that it's merely the literary equivalent of a Big Mac. Why do superheroes wear costumes? Why does the Big Mac have a "Special Sauce" that is so obviously just a tangy Thousand Island dressing? I would suggest, in answer to either question, that you ask the men in suits who own the trademarks to either property, because you aren't going to find a meaningful answer anywhere else.

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