Pipeline: Pipeline, Issue #94

Mon, March 22nd, 1999 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

COMIC BOOKS AS WE KNOW THEM

Things sure have gotten complicated when it comes to credits, haven't they? You used to have a writer, a penciller, and an inker. These days, you can have any combination of: Writer, scripter, plotter, inspiration, idea, pencils, breakdowns, layouts, finishers, inkers, embellishers. Of course, you can also add "co-" in front of any of those to make it even more confusing. (Forget about coloring. You have separators, guides, colorists, and more there.)

And the order has even changed back and forth. Back in the early 90s, John Byrne was working with John Romita Jr. on IRON MAN. He decided to put Romita's name first as artist, since that's what was selling the book. Sign of the times. Today, Marvel often puts the writer and penciller together as "storytellers" in their credits, although I suspect much of that is Comicraft's idea, since they do a lot of the design work on Marvel books these days. I suppose this is the most honest of the accountings, really, although it does lead to the question over how much plot or script input an artist has in the book. A writer will often write to an artist's strengths or desires, to keep things fresh for him.

Speaking of the early 90s: Remember when books starting opening up with two-page splash pages? It seemed to start that year when John Byrne started up NAMOR and Todd McFarlane started up SPIDER-MAN. Looking back on it, a lot of people today would probably cry foul that it is the artist trying to control the pace and tempo of the book at the expense of the writer and his work. It's a chance for the artist to show-off. Quite honestly, I like the format and think it works on more than just that basis. Any writer will tell you that what every story needs is a strong and/or exciting opening. You want something to draw the reader into the story. No short story author will ever sell a story to a magazine, for example, unless the opening grabs the submissions editor. A 2-page splash across pages 2 and 3 forces the writer to come up with something quickly that has a big pay-off. Todd McFarlane got away with it in the first issue of SPIDER-MAN, really. His art was enough to excite you, so a two-page splash of Spidey above the city worked well. The second issue started with the Lizard attacking two unknown characters. That worked well and drew the reader's interest.

So it serves a dual purpose and works on both accounts. Of course, if the artist really sucks it could very well backfire on you. But what the heck...

Also, Marvel seems to have ditched the gatefold story summaries they were doing on the inside of the front covers. Apparently, like Vertigo, they needed those two pages of ad revenue to exist every month. But something else strikes me as being terribly wrong about this. When they added the gatefold, they also added 4 cents to the price of a comic, so that they could bring us these extra two editorial pages. Now they've removed the editorial pages, replaced them with adds, and still charge us the 4 cents. It's the principal of the matter, but I still feel gypped. (Wait, it turns out they've ditched the gatefold completely now. The cover price remains the same, though.)

While I'm at it -- remember when a change in cover price elicited an apology for it in the letters column of the book? I don't think Marvel or DC did that with their last price changes. DC has abandoned the shiny pages often in favor of the plain whiter paper, too. Of course, this was done during the great paper shortages a few years ago to help bring down the cost of the book. So I assume the paper isn't in shortage anymore. =) Quite honestly, I like the plainer paper better, anyway. There is no reflection from the light blocking my view of the page.

One need look no further than eBay to see what a sham comic book price guides are. WIZARD prices its rare Visa card giveaway comic, WITCHBLADE VS. THE DARKNESS 1/2 at $180. A quick search of complete auctions in the past 30 days show that two copies of this book have come close to selling at $140, while the average selling price across the other dozen copies comes closer to $100. (Some went for as low as $75. Mine went for $91. =)

Checking out the rest of the auctions shows much the same pattern. I just won an auction for 5 McFarlane AMAZING SPIDER-MAN issues for $5. Most other auctions of just comic books end up going at about cover price, or at least far under the guide price. ANY guide. As always, Silver Age books are probably the exception, but my knowledge in that area is too limited to give you an exact figure.

Uncle $crooge artist Don Rosa is fond of saying that back issues should cost less than cover price. He may have a point. After all, they didn't sell through the first time. They're old. If they're at all interesting, most comic book companies will repackage them in a reprinted edition eventually. . . When I go to a convention these days, I pick through the 50 cent bins and often find most of what I'm looking for. Books that are at one table for $3 can be found at another dealer's table for 50 cents. Such a thing happened to me just last month with a key issue of EXCALIBUR I was looking for. Remember those hologram covers? I think it was EXCALIBUR #70 or #71. Nice looking gimmick, but a gimmick nonetheless.

Pricing back issues at cover price or less is a radical idea, but I kind of like it. I didn't buy those McFarlane Spideys because I thought I could turn around and make a profit on them. I bought them because they were worth that price to me and because I was interested in them. I wouldn't have paid any price near "book" value. So I get the books I want; the seller gets the price he was asking for. Everyone's happy. And Wizard will ignore this. Why? Maybe it's because they're price guide only values the prices paid by customers who buy from people who have to pay for their storefronts and employees. That's automatically going to raise prices. My local shop bags and boards the comics, raises the price by a quarter, and lets them sit in the back issue bin for all of eternity. Is this insane? Or am I just being too radical this week?

In the meantime, you can bid on the stuff I'm trying to get rid of - usually at cover price or less - on eBay at this URL:

http://cgi3.ebay.com/aw-cgi/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewListedItems&userid=augiedb

-Augie, getting more and more commercial these days

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