What’s SHOOT THE MESSENGER?
Well, AICN COMICS: SHOOT THE MESSENGER is your weekly one stop shop for comic book news that’s dropped in the previous week. Thanks to Newsarama, CBR, Wizard, etc. for reporting it as it breaks. Click on the links for the original stories. This column cuts the crap to run down all the vital information for those of you who don’t follow it as it comes in, and serves it all up with that special ingredient of @$$y goodness. It’s also the place for interviews, previews, and special reports.
Hey folks, Ambush Bug here. Luke O’Neil had a chance to talk with Neil Gaiman about a myriad of things over at Metro Newspapers, but O’Neil had a ton more info from the interview that wasn’t used, so we thought it was something you guys would like to take a look at. Let me pass the mike over to Luke for the interview.A lot of the time doing interviews with well known artists (particularly big time actors and musicians) can be like pulling teeth. Rotten teeth, that is, since most of the quotes you end up getting are barely passable as coherent thoughts. But every now and again you find that rare interview that's not only extraordinarily talented, but also capable of reflecting on, and talking about his or her implementation of that talent in full, thoughtful sentences. When we interviewed Neil Gaiman for the Metro Newspapers last week, he was, unsurprisingly, just that. Unfortunately the paradox with print is that when subjects actually have something to say you never have enough room to let them say it. Consider this the special bonus features from that interview, with the rest of the stuff I had to cut. Here Gaiman discusses the reason most mainstream comic titles are no good, how he ruined comic book stores forever, why there will probably never be a SANDMAN movie, and the legacy of his beloved title below.
The original interview can be found here.
With its swirling, dream-like blend of mythology, fantasy and horror, Neil Gaiman's seminal THE SANDMAN series remains one of the finest achievements in comic book history to date. When it first appeared twenty years ago it combined a literary credibility with a crossover appeal and radically changed the pop culture landscape for years to come. Metro spoke with the British ex-pat about its legacy after the recent release of the fourth THE ABSOLUTE SANDMAN COLLECTION .
LUKE O’NEIL (LO): Obviously there has been extraordinary praise for SANDMAN over the years, including from outside the comics world. How do you explain its sustained crossover appeal? NEIL GAIMAN (NG): The truth is I don't anymore because it has lasted twenty years. If you asked me while it was going on what the appeal of SANDMAN I would've talked about it not being costumes and capes, about writing something for an audience of people like me, and hoping that they were out there. But I don't think even at my most madly optimistic I would ever have predicted a future in which twenty years after the first issue it would be selling more copies with each passing year. I think at the time I thought I was doing something that was fundamentally transient. That was going to be around for a little while. The joy of SANDMAN for me now is that it wasn't something that was time specific. And that…I can't explain it, but I delight in it.
LO: Has the genre ghettoization of graphic novels and literature abated since then?
NG: Well, for a start no one would have used the phrase graphic novels because nobody knew what it meant. Today of course no one knows what it means, but we use it all the time, which is different. There was definitely a ghettoization going on back then that you don't get now. One of the most interesting thing in some ways, looking back on it, is that now, and even back then, SANDMAN was making it onto university syllabuses. You would get students forcing their professors to read it. Students would discover it, start talking about it, the professors would have no idea what they were talking about and they would make their professors read it. Now of course you have professors making their students read it, which is kind of different. When we began, SANDMAN was pirate literature. The idea that you could have a quality monthly comic with a story was strange.
LO: Do you think it was sort of a Trojan Horse, sneaking literature in through the back door?
NG: I don't think it was exactly a Trojan Horse, but whatever it was, the magic of it was that it was happening in a place that nobody was looking. We didn't get written about in the New York Times until SANDMAN had been over for ten years. Eighteen years after it began. Which is not that I ever wanted an article in NYT. I think part of the strength and the power that it had was that it existed in the gutter. Nobody looked and nobody cared, and that in itself is a wonderful and empowering sort if thing, because it gives you complete freedom. It wasn't like I was trying to sneak in literature through the back door. What was much more fun was just that I got to tell my stories, and people let me.
LO: It's almost like an underground rock band with a huge following before the money interest have taken a hold of it. It has more time to develop on its own.
NG: I think that's very true. There was a point where SANDMAN was a little indie band. It loved being an indie band. Nobody told us what to do, because nobody had done anything like this before. There weren't any rules. It was amazingly empowering.
LO: You could probably trace the explosion of more serious, or adult, imprints like Vertigo directly to SANDMAN. Then there are of course the books that are obviously indebted to your influence like LUCIFER and FABLES to name two. What do you think of the scope of your creation -- your Dreaming if you will?
NG: It's always really, really hard to figure how much real influence you had on the world. I read an article the other day on one of these online blogs called "Five Ways that SANDMAN Changed the World." And I thought 'well I don't know about that.' I'm all of a sudden much more critical and harder to impress than the people reading it. So it said 'Ok, SANDMAN started the whole neo-superheroes thing' and I thought no. I think the most important thing SANDMAN did, and it did create some important things, was that it was the first mainstream comic ever to finish a story. And I think that cannot be underestimated. The idea before that had always been that if you were writing a monthly comic, let's say Superman or whatever, you couldn't finish it. You weren't ever allowed to do the last one, to have the story mean anything. You had to turn back to the soap opera.
LO: Too profitable to stop.
NG: Exactly. The great thing bout SANDMAN was it was the very first time that anyone ever said, we have this comic, it's selling better than anything else is selling, and when it's done, it's done. And that, in many ways, changed a lot of things. On the other hand, I still get complaints from comic store owners who blame SANDMAN for the graphic novel collections, and for many ways destroying their business. They'd say, look, in the old days if you wanted to read a comic, and it was something that had been published a while ago, the only way to read it was too pay extortionate prices for back issues. These days, if you're interested in what happened, you can go and pick up a trade paper back, which is pretty much everything now that has been reprinted. When SANDMAN began, the idea that what we were doing was not going to be collected, but was going to be in print, was enough. Comics were things that if you wanted to find out what happened in an old comic, you'd rummage in the clutter bin. That was where and how you found out.
LO: There are no stakes in a Spiderman comic. You know no one is going to die.
NG: If SANDMAN changed anything, it's that we got to do things the way we wanted to do. And one of those things that we did was the idea…especially when it's a story fundamentally about stories…that for stories to be important, they have to able to finish.
LO: How have you adapted with the way producing comics over the years has changed? It must be a lot different now than mailing pages across countries…
NG: Well actually there were definitely wonderful things about the world of mailing pages back and forth across countries. Because you could use Fed Ex, as a writer, and everything had a 2 or 3 days buffer zone. These days when people say they want something now, what they mean is email it to me. You could write up to the point that the Fed Ex would come! But overall I love the instant gratification. I am writing my first mainstream periodical comic years, doing Batman, just really mostly to keep my hand in it and find out if it was fun. One of the strange things about that is that I get emailed these glorious pages, and they come in and I look at them on screen, and I think, I would have never have seen this level of detail if they had faxed them to me in the past. It's kind of cool.
LO: How will you square working with Batman with what we were talking about before about finite stories?
NG: Well, one of the things that attracted me to it was when they asked if I would be interested in writing the last Batman story, so that's what I'm doing. The last Batman story.
LO: Movie adaptations are of course a big deal lately. A potential SANDMAN film has been in discussion for years. Do you think we'll ever see it come to fruition?
NG: I think for years the biggest problem that everyone had with the film, which honestly is no less a problem today, is that it was never cheap. By its very nature a Sandman film is going to be filled with special effects. But it also has to be intelligent. You can't turn it into a regular blockbuster, and it's also much too deep. You can't do Sandman in the same way you do Spiderman and say "ok here's one of the villains." Or even Batman. “Everyone loves the Joker, so let's have fun with a Joker story.” SANDMAN doesn't really work like that. Warners has been aware for fifteen, twenty years, that they have something that is one of the jewels in their crown for filming. On the other hand I had a meeting about three years ago with the current heads of Warners studios, who were getting lots and lots of calls from people saying they wanted to make a SANDMAN movie. They wanted to know what this thing was, could I explain it to them. Could I summarize SANDMAN for them. So I went out to Los Angeles and essentially did a three hour presentations with illustrations that we had done specially, statues, all that kind of thing, and explaining the whole story. When I got to the end of the presentation, the current head of Warners, he explained to me the reason that HARRY POTTER and LORD OF THE RINGS had done so well was that they had very clear cut good guys and bad guys. And they wanted to know does SANDMAN have clear cut good guys and bad guys, and I said no, not even a little bit.
LO: Do you think hundreds of years from now some of our comics will have evolved into myths that we use, the way we think about the ancient stories of gods and so forth now?
It's lovely to think so. Actually what would be even cooler is the idea that all of today's and yesterday's pop culture would evolve into the giant stew, and when they talk about our days they vaguely remember this world in which, you know, Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock went to the sky, and Superman and Spiderman kept New York safe, and Batman came out at night and hurt people. And through it all, the Sandman wandered through people's dreams. That would be a lovely kind of world.
Thanks, Mr. O’Neil and Mr. Gaiman for the cool interview!
Hey folks, it’s your old pal, Ambush Bug again. OK, let’s spin ye Olde Spinner Rack and see what comes up, shall we?
First we have a preview for WILDCATS, a book I haven’t been keeping tabs on, I must admit. I think the last time I looked at it was back when Jim Lee was on the title…man, I’m old. But this one is written by Christos Gage (who is proving to be a pretty strong writer), so it has to be some kind of cool. And it’s got art by a guy who has a fun last name, Neil Googe. Check out what the Gage and the Googe have for us in issue #6.
Looks pretty damn good. And I especially like the Googe’s artwork here. Check out WILDCATS #6 this Wednesday.
Next up is Vertigo’s critically acclaimed DMZ series by Brian Wood. The book is a harsh and realistic what if… story that is closer to the world outside our window that many of us would like to think. Here’s a preview to issue #37. Enjoy.
You can check out DMZ #37 when it hits the stands on Wednesday!
And finally, here’s our monthly preview of a comic that certifies your insanity if you don’t have it on your pull: GREEN LANTERN CORPS. Peter Tomasi is kicking @$$ on this book, keeping pace and sometimes surpassing Geoff Johns’ awesomeness on GREEN LANTERN. Let’s see what issue #31 has for us.
If you’re planning on getting THE BLACKEST NIGHT crossover next year, then this book should be required reading. Pick up GREEN LANTERN CORPS #31 this Wednesday.
I don’t want to sound like a cheapskate. Lord knows how much money I have thrown into the comic book industry what with monthly comics, trades, and other memorabilia in my 25 years of comic book collecting and reading. I’m sure if I tallied it all up the amount of money spent it would be a depressing sum. But I’m not bitter about that. I made my choice with a clear conscience and a free will. I love comics. They have been an important part of my life since I learned how to read. Hell, they taught me how to read. So my weekly trip to the comic store has been something of a ritual for me, almost like going to church.
One More Washington
Well, lately, my church’s collection plate has been taking a lot out of my wallet and I thought it was about time to rant about it.
It appears that, right under our noses, Marvel and DC have been putting out more and more $3.99 comics. As it is, $2.99 is a hefty price tag to pay. But it’s been like that for a while (not sure when the change actually occurred) and I’ve been somewhat ok with it. Lately, though, I’ve seen my weekly donation to the comic book collection plate rise and the amount of books I am buying lessen. After further inspection, it appears that normal issues (sometimes anniversary/special issues, sometimes not) have been upped a dollar to 4 bucks, without so much as a warning. A lot of times I don’t even notice the price hike until after I read the book when I’m home. This, my Faithful Talkbackers, sucks balls.
Now, I’m sure the companies will hem and haw about the price of nice slick paper and the cost of printing rising along with everything else. I’m sure fingers will be pointed at past Presidential decisions and current economic crises. I’m sure chipper and chubby EIC’s will point fingers and say “Well, if Marvel is doing it, we’ve got to follow suit!” and vice versa. But I’m here to say, there is no excuse for the upcoming price hike to 4 dollars for a single 22 page issue. And it’s coming, my friends. Believe me. It’s coming sooner than you think.
What Marvel and DC want to do is get the consumer used to spending $3.99 for a book. That way, like a ninja on a sleeping pirate ship, they can sneak in one comic after another until their whole line is raised a dollar and not just special issues. Comic book readers have proven to have a zombie/sheep/idiot mentality when it comes to this. Instead of making a stand, they shrug their shoulders and fork over the cash for lack of anything better to do.
So what’s the alternative? I wouldn’t want to encourage illegal comic book downloads, but look at how much the dinosaur CD industry has been hit now that it’s cheaper to download music than go out and pay for some plastic square that is hard to open, housing a disc that may or may not have 3 good songs on it. Will the price hike encourage opportunists to find a way to make a quick buck by scanning and posting the comics themselves? A mouseclick is a heck of a lot more convenient than a trip to the comic store. And a download is probably going to be a whole lot cheaper too.
But I don’t want to encourage that.
There’s something special about holding a comic in your hands. Feeling the weight of it. Risking a puncture wound from a misfolded staple or a paper cut from a rapidly turned page. Now that’s excitement!
I don’t want to suggest stop buying books. Sure, there will be some who walk away from comics. But no one wins in that situation. I don’t want to see the comics industry lose money. It’s apparent, though, that things are spiraling quickly and, Dear DC and Marvel, a price hike is not the answer. The all new, all different price tag will further insure that child readers will be as extinct as fresh air in a comic store, thus leaving the poor schlubs who’ve been collecting comics for years to buy these pricey periodicals. And if you haven’t noticed, comic book readers aren’t the healthiest of eaters. How long do you think a stagnant readership will last on a steady diet of Funyuns and Red Bull?
More people downloading comics, fewer new readers, and a fanbase dropping like flies from heart attacks and sugar comas won’t hurt bigger stores like Wal-Mart or convenience stores, but who buys comics there? It’s only going to hurt the comic book store owners--the comic book industry’s unappreciated bastard step-children who get screwed time and time again. Ask your LCS how they feel about the price hike. Any owner with sense will know rising prices makes that bankruptcy death knell they hear in the distance ring ever closer.
This impending price hike only seals the deal that the comics industry is moving further and further away from monthly books and closer to a trade paperback-centric approach to distribution. Being a monthly reader myself, I don’t like this idea. Right now, my weekly trip to the comic store is in my schedule. Take that out of my weekly routine, you better believe I’ll find something else to occupy my time. Once again, big dick to the LCS who loses business and less new readers who now will be asked to fork over 20 bucks a book rather than 3 or 4. And with books going straight to trade instead of being in monthly form, all that insures is that there’ll be more crap out there on the shelves. Do you actually think Marvel or DC are going to cut their monthly books and not have shit to distribute every week? With monthlies, I can make the mistake to pick up a badly written first issue and decide not to buy the rest of the series. With trades, you’re stuck with a shitty full series without being able to take a taste and smartly walk away. Once again, the companies win out, but after a short time, even the most zombified of readers will shamble away to more satisfying pastures.
It’s annoying to call this an accomplishment, but it is worth noting. Top Cow recently issued a press statement insuring that through 2009, they promise that the price of their regular sized books will not be raised from $2.99.
“We looked around and saw cover prices creeping up and up all around us,” noticed Top Cow Publisher Filip Sablik. “It seems wrong to raise your prices on customers during these tough economic times. Once we knew we were going to hold the line on our prices, it made sense to call attention to it. Hopefully, it will encourage some fans to try our titles.”
“Our content pages will remain the same as it is now and in fact we're adding more and more added-value pages, including interviews, back-matter articles and preview art,” said Sablik. “We want to be the value and quality leader in the industry.”
Of course, this doesn’t include extra page annuals, specials, variant editions, and anything else the company deems “worth the extra buck!” But I’m glad Top Cow is doing this and it makes me more likely to check out their product for taking the extra steps taken to empathize with the reader. This is a bold move and I hope other comic companies will follow suit in this considerate stance towards the fans.
In 1977, I bought one of my first comics: STAR WARS #3. It cost 30 cents. Today that same comic, with that same amount of pages would cost $2.99 and maybe $3.99 since it is a movie tie-in. Back then, my dad would give me a buck and I would go in and buy three comics. It was damn cool. From those dollars passed from father to son, a life-long comic book reader was born. Now I don’t expect to pay 30 cents for a comic anymore, but I also think 12.5 times that price is something not unlike robbery--something some of the heroes in the comics they print would suit up and enact justice against.
This isn’t the first rant about the rising process of comics. I’m sure it won’t be the last. I’ve talked to folks who remember when comics cost a quarter and how they expressed outrage for the raise to 30 cents. Check out the prices on the covers of some of the comics in this article to see how they’ve varied through the years. I’m sure everyone has to tighten their belts (including the comic book companies) in order to keep up with these times of economic doldrums and price hikes are inevitable, but a whole dollar? Why not look for ways to compensate that don’t alienate readers?
Solutions? How about cheaper paper? I know I certainly wouldn’t mind reading a comic printed on cheaper paper if it meant that it cost less or maintained the current price. That’s just one solution that I could live with. The reason why I wrote this piece is to encourage others to discuss possible alternatives, and I hope they do so.
If you’re not on a budget and aren’t really affected by this price hike, well, congrats Richie Rich, you’ve got one up on me. But as for myself, and pretty much everyone I know, money is a bit tighter these days. Raising prices on monthly comics will only result in one thing: less comics bought. Less comics bought hurts the companies. Less comics bought hurts comic stores. Less comics bought hurts consumers who will only have the choice of reading books Wizard Magazine deems popular at the moment because quality books with lesser characters written by up and coming/tried and true comic book talent don’t meet the ever rising sales quota. Less comics bought means lesser tier comics with a steady but small fanbase like SHE-HULK, like X-FACTOR, like SPIDER-GIRL, like LEGION OF SUPER HEROES, etc., and so on, ad pukity-puke are more likely to be cancelled and less likely to even happen in the first place. Less comics bought means stagnant, boring, safe comics.
I don’t want monthly comics to become extinct, but it looks like the companies are moving closer and closer to that inevitable outcome. Regular sized comics are still $2.99 right now and I hope it will stay that way for the foreseeable future so I can continue to buy as many comics as I can. But the change seems to be coming. Books deemed “important” all bear a $3.99 price tag. Guess what: pretty soon, if your favorite comic is bearing a $2.99 price tag, it’s a pretty sure bet that it’s on the chopping block. DC and Marvel think we’ll just deal with it. And we are dealing with it--just not in the way they may want. Comic books are becoming easier and easier to download (legally or not so much). Trades are on the rise. Readership and sales are decreasing. Whether these changes mean the end of monthly comics or the dawn of a new age in funny-bookdom is uncertain. Sadly, it’s in the hands of the people willing to make their product even less accessible by upping it a Washington.
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, reviewer and co-editor of AICN Comics for over seven years. Check out a five page preview of his short story published in MUSCLES & FIGHTS 3 (AVAILABLE NOW at Muscles & Fights.com.) on his ComicSpace page. There you can also see a five page preview of his short story in MUSCLES & FRIGHTS! Bug was recently interviewed here and here at Cream City Comics.