Monday, September 01, 2008

Read me now - buy me later

Initially this would have been post number 150 ( well, the second one ) but only because I hadn’t gotten around to write my big post on the awesomeness that is ALL STAR SUPERMAN. And because I didn’t want to bring up such a risky topic on my big celebration post.

After all a celebration post is supposed to be about this blog, the countless hours I put into it and into reworking the entire blog for my readers and other stuff…like how thankful I am for my readers. And how they could post more comments. Also if you all stop reading after this post at least I had the chance to go out with a bang and had the chance to celebrate ALL STAR SUPERMAN. So now that the immediate danger has passed let’s bring up the heavy stuff : comic file sharing.

Now I don’t want to damn or condone file sharing in this post. I just wanted to give you a few things to consider on the subject and leave you to make up your own opinion.

I for once would not have thought much about the subject if I hadn’t found some of these files while looking for preview pages from DC comics. I don’t know if that is common knowledge but it’s been a while since DC stopped providing MILE HIGH COMICS website ( the FIRST LOOK section of their website to be exact ) with preview material. Marvel is still providing them with stuff but DC has stopped at least a year ago.

I like to post as much stuff about a series I’m writing about on my blog because I want the readers to have the possibility to see stuff before deciding if they want to buy it or not.

And likewise I like to post some links where you can see some preview pages so I don’t have to post the images on the blog for all those readers that don’t want to be spoiled. As someone who has been spoiled in the worst ways I know how that can bite. So I like to be as spoilerfree as possible and one way to do this is by putting up preview links.

Now in the past I have posted links to different websites but my experience has taught me that while other websites tend to take their previews off the net after a few months all the links from MILE HIGH ( kudos again ) are still working. Even the first ones I posted on my second post more than two years ago. But now there are no new links for all the cool DC stuff. Besides the stuff you can find and post on your own blog – with which you are spoiling stuff.

Okay, there are still sites like Comic Book Resources where comic companies give you preview pages. But since last month there is only the stuff by Marvel, Image and a few other companies. Again, no DC stuff. And then I found these files which brings us to our main topic. Like I said I just wanted to throw a few questions out there and then let you come to your own conclusions. A kind of hit and run post in the veins of guerilla blogging.

Have you bought every comic you ever read ?

Sounds weird but I really mean it. Did you pay for every comic you ever read or have you read comics that you got from the library, from a friend, at a convention or some previews of entire issues on the net ? I bet you did.

I can say that a big part of the comics I read belonged to libraries. Now I don’t know how the situation is in the States but when I was a kid I read all issues of ASTERIX, LUCKY LUKE, YOKO TSUNO, VALERIAN AND VERONIQUE, RICK MASTERS, UMPAH PAH, TINTIN, THE SMURFS, SPIROU, BLUEBERRY, ISNOGOOD and even exotic stuff like DIGEDAGS from the library. What’s more if they hadn’t provided me with a means to read all the franco belgian stuff I never would have. Because that’s just part of the general culture. I never felt bad because I didn’t pay for them.

The truth is that because I read them for free I didn’t buy most of these comics which means that in some way it was bad for the comic market. On the other way it is one of the few possibilities left to bring new readers to comic books. With comics retreating more and more from newsstands and other easily accessible outlets it is important to bring new readers in contact with comics. Libraries do that and in the last years their comic sections have expanded giving their customers a far superior range of comics than in my youth.

Now surely you read some comics that you got from a friend or from your brother. I know I read all the comics my younger brother buys ( and the two my older brother buys every year ) and viceversa. For us it means that we can read more comics than our budget allows. For the comic industry it means that we read comics we didn’t pay for. But...again...I never felt bad because of it. It’s just normal to lend somebody comics of a series you think he could enjoy or to read comics at conventions to get a general idea.

For some people libraries ( or the net ) are the only way to read comics. I mean what do you do if you live in a country like El Salvador ( holler to the ComicGeekos ) and you have no money and there is no comics shop ? I don’t mean there is no comic shop in your hometown. I mean there is no comic shop in El Salvador – period. Okay, you can buy comics from the internet comic shops or do your own comic collective order but that’s very expensive because of the shipping costs and not everybody is that resourceful. And some people still don’t have internet. So if you live in a remote country that may be well the only way to read comics.

Have you ever sold a comic of your collection ?

Do you still posess every comic you ever bought ? Over the course of time my comic collection has expanded and also contracted.

A few years ago I sold a big part of it and now that I have reached 41 years I plan to do it again. Mostly because I read an article in DOLMEN that spoke about the difference between collecting comics and just pillaging them ( Sammelst du noch oder lagerst du schon ? ) and I have realized that there are comics in my collection that I bought and I won´t read a second time. And there are comics I didn’t like when I read them the first time. And many other comics that take up space but that I really don’t want to keep at the end of the day.

Many comic readers do this and many turn it into an annual event. Right now everybody in Germany seems to be selling their comic collection either through e – bay, comic message boards or normal comic dealers. Now on one side that business cuts into the buying and selling of new stuff. But what I am asking is that maybe ther are comics you sell because you would not have bought them if you had known the content.

Would you ever have preferred to know the contents of a comic before buying it ?

I know that I could have saved a lot of money on SPIDER – MAN : CHAPTER ONE or the awful DEFENDERS series by DeMatteis.

And I’m going to spoil something : I sure would have liked to know before buying 52 issues of COUNTDOWN TO FINAL CRISIS that DC would later say that, sorry, the whole series has nothing to do with FINAL CRISIS and we’re just starting from scratch. All the 52 issues are now…..for the bin.

Just picture this : we make two piles of comics. One pile are the 52 issues of COUNTDOWN. Ripe for the trash can. On the other pile we put the 11 issues of ALL STAR SUPERMAN that have come out, the first 13 issues of the ULTIMATES, the first 6 issues of MIGHTY AVENGERS, the first 4 issues of the new HULK by Ed McGuiness, the 5 issues of SUPERMAN / BATMAN Absolute Power by Carlos Pacheco and THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD issue 7 featuring POWER GIRL to get the money value of the first pile ( just as a random example ). Now which of the two piles makes you happier ? I’m not saying that in this instance reading the issues first would have made the difference but it might have. There are always moments when you tell yourself : I wish I would have known that before. And sometimes we have little choice if we buy certain comics.

Have you ever bought a comic you didn’t want to buy but you had to buy it to read another comic ?

Yes, I’m talking about the big crossover stuff. There are good crossovers like COUNTDOWN TO INFINITE CRISIS where you don’t have to read every tie – in book but you want to because they are just soooo good. And then there are the others. Where you have to read a gazillion books to get the main story. Which sucks. And not only the fact that you have to buy comics you don’t want. I mean that in the end the actual story sucks. Every year everything is going to change, the blablabla universe is never going to be the same and every year that’s not true. There are a few exceptions but genarally you have to buy a lot of comics you don’t want to. Now in Germany that’s something you have to do anyway because if you buy NEW WARRIORS they also pack OMEGA FLIGHT into the trade. But what if you could read all the crossover stuff but only buy the issues you really wanted ?

Have you ever bought a comic you already have ?

I think it was Erik Larsen who said we always buy the same comics we already have. For me that’s true. There are certain comics I have as single issues, in the german translation, in the original version, in trade and in the ESSENTIAL format. I even have some of them as BIBLIOTEKA MARVEL editions. Some of the Uncanny x – Men issues by Joe Madureiras I have in the original version, in the german version and in the spanish version as well as in trade format. There is no denying that there are certain comics we like and which we buy again and again whenever they are presented in a nice format.

Hell, back in the days when I had a job there were comic series where I always bought two issues because I read them so often that they began falling apart.

Everybody buys comics they already have and you have to keep in mind that by buying these comics ( again ) you wasted money that you could have spend on new comics. I’m not saying that you don’t have the right to decide on which comics you waste your money – that’s what democracy really is all about. But what if I read a comic through file sharing that I already have ? Am I cutting into the comic companies sales even if that issue is not available otherwise ? Which brings me to my next question.

Have you ever bought a comic you already read ?

Nobody buys a comic if they have already read it. That is one of the – if not THE – main argument against file sharing. And most people think it’s true.

Because it sounds logic. Now we already covered the question of reading comics for free from libraries and stuff. So, did you ever buy a comic you read first at a library or from a friend ? I bet you did. Because that’s how most of us start collecting comics. You borrow somebody’s comics and if you like them you buy them.

Nobody would think : Oh, I better don’t let him read these comics because if he reads them he won’t buy them. Because we know that’s not true. If you like a comic you want to have it. And not in a virtual file format but an actual comic you can smell and touch.

There are people who say that the days of the printed comic are over. Well, they are saying that since the computers first came around but I can tell you one thing : I’m not going to see the day when there are no printed comics. And probably you won’t either. Hear me now and believe me later. The printed comic has stayed and is going to stay because it provides what no computer can give you. A portable, non – erasable comic reading experience unlike any other.

Back to our question I think it has been proven that reading comics first or having already read a comic has no negative affect to buying comics. In fact MILE HIGH COMICS has shown that you can sell more comics by putting whole issues on the net for free. This sounds ridiculous to most publishers ( and may have something to do with the fact that DC comics has stopped providing them with preview pages ) but comic readers don’t like to play the game of Schroedinger’s cat every time they buy a comic. And if they can read it and they like it they buy it.

I’m sure there are a lot of movies you bought for your home cinema that you first watched in a movie theater or on tv. And I’m sure you never didn’t buy a movie just because you saw it first somewhere else.

You might have made a decision NOT to buy a movie because you saw it and didn’t like it. But that has to do with the quality and not with the fact that you saw it before. Okay, there are movies you might have bought on a whim. And some are gold and some are crap. But as a general rule you don’t buy a movie without knowing anything about it. But we are expected to do that with comics. Especially in Germany comic companies are much too acustomed to the old way of TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT in terms of selling comics. There are still comic companies who are not willing to put out a quality product for the heafty price tag they pin on it. And that has to change if the comic market wants to survive. People have to demand good quality comics and have to stop buying comics that are crap. Either contentwise or productionwise. Even if that means reading the original versions.

Was a favorite series of yours ever canceled because everybody spent all their money on the gazillion crossovers and couldn’t buy it ?

What if people could read the big crossover stuff and your favorite series? What would happen if they could read both and then decide what they bought ?

I miss MAJOR BUMMER. For me it was one of the best series ever published which had to end before it’s time. I still miss it and I wonder how the book would have ended without it’s premature end. And the same goes for SECTION ZERO and POWER COMPANY. And I guess that there are some series that are on your list. Now I’m not saying that every book can be saved if people have the chance to read them even if they don’t have the money to buy them. But many would be still around if the comic readers hadn’t spent all their money on ATLANTIS ATTACKS or DAY OF JUDGEMENT. And let’s face it : a lot of books are canceled because they suck. But a lot of others are canceled in spite of their high quality content. It is a common error to think that quality always sells. What sells often is just the loudest, meanest and baddest comic on the block. And afterwards we all ask ourselves how we could ever spend so much money on YOUNGBLOOD. There are comics out there who have to fight for survival and not all of them have the good fortune to have a loyal readership that is willing to do something like in the case of SPIDER – GIRL.

Are there comics you would never buy no matter how cheap they were ?

What would happen if you read them ? You were not going to buy them before so that’s no money lost to the publishers. What would be the worst that can happen ?

You could find out that you were right and that this comic doesn’t deserve your money. Or you could find out that you were wrong and that the book is better than you thought. In the end you could buy the damn thing.

It's always said that the price point is so important but it's a fact that when Marvel was putting out their 99 cent books the only one that really sold well was UNTOLD TALES OF SPIDER - MAN. Because it was the only comic that had a halfway decent story. With all the other stuff readers prefered to spend three times at much on other comics.

I stopped buying Spider – Man. Okay, I didn’t buy Spider – Man I just read the issues my brother bought. But even he saw that after BRAND NEW DAY crapped all over his Spider – Man collection there was not much sense in still buying the book. And he’s a longtime Spider – Man reader who suffered throught the clone saga and the dark days of Mackie. So he knows what real pain is following the title year after year no matter how bad story and art were up till the glorious resurrection of the franchise by JMS. But even he has his limits. And there is really no other way to give the companies input. If you hate a book but you keep on buying it you don’t help the book and you don’t help yourself. You waste money and the publishers think they are on the right way since sales are still up. The only way to tell the companies that their books suck is to stop buying them.

So my brother is not buying Spider – Man and me neither. I’m probably going to read the issues in one form or another but only to find out if the stories are really THAT much better now that they have gotten rid of Mary Jane. I want to see if all the stories they tell now are only possible because Peter isn’t married anymore. But I’m sure as hell not going to buy a single issue or advise anybody else to do it before I’m convinced. For me Quesada took something that was a natural evolution turned it into the biggest mistake Spider – Man ever made and then retconned it in the worst way. And for me they have to come up with the Spider - Man equivalent of WATCHMEN or WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE SPIDER OF TOMORROW to make up for that.

And let’s not forget ASTONISHING X – MEN. Meaning Simone Bianchi. Astonishing X – Men was wonderful. Fabulous. Incredible. Amazing. And all the other words Marvel has in their titles. As long as Cassady was on the book. Because….well, there are people who are good for covers and there are people who are good for interior stuff. There are people who can do both, there are artists who are better on one than on the other and then there are people who are only good at one. There are of course artist who should do neither but let’s talk about the ones who are good for covers but not so good for interior pages.

Nothing against Simone Bianchi, I’m sure he’s a swell guy and he has a lot of fans and he sure has his merit as an artist. But I have to say I hated his covers for Green Lantern. In my opinion you should have somebody on the cover who’s at least as good as the artist inside if not better. The main purpose of a cover is selling the comic and for me putting Simone Bianchi on the Cover of a Green Lantern book done by Ivan Reis is like yelling at the reader : Don’t buy me. So, yes, I’m not too thrilled with some of the covers by him. But I can tolarate that. On the other hand I can’t stand it if he does interior stuff. Again, sorry, but it just doesn’t excite me in the least way. For me there are guys who pull off the whole “ painted art “ interior work like Alex Ross, Don Lawrence and Vincente Segrelles. And there are others like Simone Bianchi and Gabriel Dell Otto who just don’t. I love Dell Otto’s covers and pin ups and posters. But his interior work suffers by comparison.

And it didn’t help much that SECRET WAR was one of the biggest out – of – character comics I ever read in my whole life. Marvel could have put a WHAT IF or WHAT THE sticker on the book without any problem. So when Cassaday left ASTONISHING I did too because they just stopped being that. Astonishing. Which for me is false advertising if they have astonishing on the cover and they are not. But who knows ? I might read it and if it’s good I might even come back. But not before reading it first.

Now I mentioned that there are artists who are not good either on covers nor on inside stuff. One person who for me has always fallen into that category is Scott Kolins. If you are a longtime reader you know that he is the only one who has made me stop reading Flash. And for me there are two kind of comics where Scott Kolins is involved. The first one sucks or is forgettable at best. This is the positive category. No, really ¡ Because if the story sucks it doesn’t matter that the art is so crappy. You’re glad because they both complement each other like on THOR : BLOOD OATH and you don’t need this comic in your collection.

The second category is far worse because for me it’s the WHAT IF section. Meaning that the story is awesome so WHAT IF it had a really good artist ? There are many readers who say that the most important thing in a comic is the story and that you can suffer bad art for a good story. But for me there is a clear limit and Scott Kolins is way past that limit. So in the second category we have comics like FLASH BLITZ where one can only imagine what kind of a comic this would have been ( and what the sales would have been ) with someone like Brian Hitch, Carlos Pacheco, Paul Pelletier or Alan Davis on the art.

So if Scott Kolins starts to do stuff on books like BRAVE AND THE BOLD I’m like exit : stage left. I mean I put the book on my pull list because of George Perez and it’s hard enough to keep buying it with Jerry Ordway doing the art. But Scott Kolins ? What is DC trying to do ? Destroy the book after it’s first year ? Maybe I will read the issues but I’m not going to waste the little money I have on comics that think they don’t need good art – meaning art I like. I want to remind you that I’m speaking from a totally subjective point of view here. There are people out there who think Scott Kolins is the best thing that ever happened to the Flash and that Carlos Pacheco is just a hack. And who am I to tell them different ? Maybe they are right. But here on my blog I am going to tell it like I see it. And when I look at it that way I have to say that for me Scott Kolins would be better off doing franco belgian comics where his style is better suited for that kind of boring, rigid and unexciting stuff.

Seems like file sharing can lead to comic readers not buying crappy comics anymore. And would that really be so bad if all comic readers would stop buying bad comics ? I read somewhere that this could mean the end of the big publishers or even the end of superhero comics in general. Now if that’s true what would be so bad about it ? Everywhere I go I read that comics suck because of all the superhero stuff – that also sucks. And that it would be the best if the two big would go bancrupt and that this would mean a golden age for indie comics and the comic industry. So go for it.

I don’t think that this will save the industry but if you think this is right just go for it. Be part of the revolution. Back when I started reading american comics there was a big difference between mainstream comics and independent comics not only productionwise but also where the price was concerned. You had to pay double or at least one dollar more for independent comics. But nowadays mainstream comics have reached the 2.95 mark that indie comics have kept and there is almost no difference productionwise. The only difference is exposure and file sharing could have a positive impact on that too.

What would it mean for the comic market if the readers would read the comics first and buy them later ?

We do it with other stuff why not with comics ? We do it with food. Every time we go to a restaurant we eat first and pay later. We do it with everything we buy from a catalogue. You get it and if you don’t like it you just send it back without paying for it. In some areas it would be unthinkable to buy something without knowing exactly what it is but with comics we often do it.

And that is something that file sharing has no impact on. Because you still have to order three months in advance. Now I don’t think that whoever puts the files on the net can do so faster than one or two week after the comics come out. Which means that the comics you can read as files are at least two weeks old.

So when it’s time to order you still have to rely on the imformation you can find on the net, the information that PREVIEWS provides you with and your gut instinct.

For a long time the comic industry was mimicking the mistakes of the music industry instead of learning from them. Meaning they were too busy criminalizing their clients than listening to what they want and adapting themselves to make money. But in the past years that has changed. Of course CROSSGEN was the true pioneer in that field providing their readers with the possibility to read their entire backlog on the internet. There are many indie publisher who also used the internet to get readers access to their output and although not all the kinks have been worked out the general direction is right. Even a big publisher like Marvel is taking first steps in that direction. First by providing their readers with CD Roms that contain hundreds of comics in digital form and second by providing subscriptions to read them on digital form on their website. Image also offers this service but so far they are the only big publishers…..that I could find anyway. If there are others let me know.

What all have in common is that you can read the first one for free. Which still feels weird in a drug consuming way but doesn’t everything that has to do with comics ?

This could change the comic industry in a positive way and also have an impact on things like the trade paperback market. Because although the trade market has improved by the quantity it has not improved as much in quality.

The companies are still reluctant to put their best stuff in collections and some content is reprinted too soon to benefit the books. Now for a book it would be unthinkable that it was not available if it was something the readers would demand – and even more so if it is considered a classic. Or do you even consider the possibility that you wanted to buy a book like MOBY DICK in a book store ( any book store ) and they told you it’s not possible ? No. It would be unthinkable because book stores work longterm in questions of money revenue. And that’s where the trades have to end up.

Another thing that has to improve is the price. And I don’t mean that they have to be cheaper. That surely would help but that is not what I mean. I mean that it is just weird that one trade with six issues can cost the same as a trade with ten or twelve issues. Or that you have two trades with six issues and one costs 15 bucks and the other one 25 or even 30 bucks. That’s a bit hard to swallow especially if it seems rather random.

Anyway, while the future of the comic book industry goes digital print is going to stay. And reading comics on the net seems to be an addition to your comic collection rather than a substitute. So, again , file sharing could lead to you buying more comics if it has any impact at all.

So what is my conclusion ? Like I said I’m not here to preach or to condone. Only time can tell if file sharing is bad for comics or good. It could be the downfall or one of the biggest opportunities ever. What I want to say is : Keep on reading comics no matter what. I have read comics through every period of my life no matter how bad things were or how tight money was. Don’t let anything stop you from enjoying comics. And if you like them and you have the money – buy them. Who knows ? You might be surprised to find that a lot of comics are well worth the money.

New to the blog ? Everything you need to know about TALES FROM THE KRYPTONIAN :

  • top ten posts

  • more posts of interest

  • No comments: