Pipeline

Tue, October 21st, 2008 at 2:28pm PDT

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

IF I RAN A COMICS AUCTION SITE

I'm not a big fan of eBay these days. The service has gone straight downhill for a number of years now, as the company neglects the population that got it to the top of the hill in preference to storefronts and super sellers. The little guy has been pushed to the edges. eBay doesn't care about you anymore, Casual eBay Seller. The rules are quickly being rewritten against you.

But as the situation stands today, there's nowhere else to go. You want that large population to guarantee the highest possible prices on your auctions, after all. Slowly but surely, the eBay population needs to find a new home. The best suggestion I've heard for this so far has been niche auction sites. eBay needs to split apart to survive. Or, more likely, eBay users need to split away from eBay to a bunch of new websites. Computer sellers can have one website. Philatelists can have a stamp auction site. And comic book fans can have one site dedicated strictly to comic book material -- comics, original art, licensed items.

What would you like to see in such a site?

If I ran it, the first thing I'd do is change the auction model. The current one won't work, initially. Nobody will want to list their items for sale on such a small site. So you need to give the sellers a chance to make money. I'm not familiar with too many alternate auction methods, but I think starting with rules to help eliminate sniping is a good start. How about the old "This auction won't end until no bid has been placed for an hour." You can have an end date of Sunday at noon, but if everyone starts bidding at 11:59, the site should let them keep outbidding each other until the true highest bidder wins, not the one with the slickest automated computer program placing a big with 1/10th of a second left in the auction. This gives everyone an equal chance to win an auction, and it gives the seller the best opportunity to make more money.

I'd make everyone use their real name as their handle, first and last. You want to help reduce fraud? Kill anonymity. If I ran the message board universe, I'd do the same thing. We're talking real money now, not internet points. Let's be serious about it.

We'd need a way to ensure items are placed in their proper categories. Organization is one of eBay's biggest weaknesses right now. I've tried looking for original art in the "Original Art" category and had to push past countless coloring books, standard comics, and photocopies of things to get to the art. It devalues the service and annoys the users. We could start by using community policing for this. Include a button on every auction along the lines of "Report This Auction." Have one person at the site's home base look at the auctions and cancel them if they're in the wrong category. Three strikes and that lister is out.

Make sure the categories are defined strongly enough to eliminate the need for crossposting. Original art is in the original art category. Video games based on comics are in the video games category, not the "1990s Marvel" category, or whatever the site ends up with.

When the site is small and starting out, it's essential not to Balkanize it too much. Fewer categories to start, more as the need grows. You don't need to start out with a "1990s Marvel X-Books" category at first. Heck, a general "Marvel" category is probably good enough to start things off. If the community segregates itself into Spider-Man fans and X-Men fans and Avengers fans, then those divisions can be installed later on.

Perhaps a site focused on comics could have a module to suggest proper categories? I don't think eBay has a feature that suggests a category for your auction based on keywords in your title and description, but it would seem be to an easy enough feature to program these days. And with comics, you have keywords galore to work with.

Obviously, starting an auction site today is a tricky beast. I wouldn't want to deal with it, particularly from a legal and financial point of view. As much as I've weighed in against eBay for disallowing check and money order purchases, I can see the advantage of doing that to help protect users. Heck, mandatory escrows even sound good to me. But there are all sorts of regulatory issues with, in effect, becoming a bank to start an auction site. It becomes scary. This is all "blue sky" thinking.

I'd just suck up venture capital funds for a couple of years, give an exit interview with CBR News, and then slink away. Maybe someone else has the time, patience, and money to start such a thing.

ATTENTION ENTREPENEURS

While I'm being all business-minded:

You know what service I'd like to buy into? It would be the one that lets me trade in my comics for the downloadable PDF or CBR (no relation) version of those comics. I'd love to take a long box of comics (or ten long boxes) to a convention, dump it off at the dealer's booth, pay 10 cents or a quarter a comic, and be handed a DVD later in the day with PDF versions of all the comics in that box, covers and ads and letters columns included. Just think of the space you could save at home!

Obviously, there's an issue here with a business model. Licensing rights. Disposal issues. Carrying costs. (Try hauling ten long boxes with you to San Diego to trade in for ten DVDs. Freight ain't cheap these days.)

Let me live in my dream world for just a moment. Please?

AN OPEN LETTER TO MARVEL

Dear Marvel,

Six years ago this week, you released the fourth and final issue of a mini-series that you told people you didn't plan on releasing as a trade. I think the time has come to rectify that.

"Elektra: Glimpse and Echo" should be done up as a Marvel Premiere Edition hardcover, at the very least. And I'll tell you how to sell it:

"By Pixar's Scott Morse."

Just slap that on the cover and pick up that bag of money on the side of the road.

Thanks,

-Augie

AT LAST, AN ALAN DAVIS OMNIBUS!

One thing I've asked for in the past is more Alan Davis art in oversized hardcovers. I just pitched one collecting his recent mini-series ("Clandestine," "Fantastic Four," "Killraven"). While that particular book hasn't happened -- nor an "Excalibur Visionaries Omnibus: Alan Davis" -- I am very happy to announce this little ditty from Marvel in January 2009:‘‘‚¬Â¨


CAPTAIN BRITAIN BY ALAN MOORE & ALAN DAVIS OMNIBUS HC
Written by ALAN MOORE, ALAN DAVIS, DAVE THORPE, PAUL NEARY, MICHAEL CARLIN, STEVE CRADDOCK, MIKE COLLINS, JAMIE DELANO & CHRIS CLAREMONT
Penciled by ALAN DAVIS & PAUL NEARY
Covers by ALAN DAVIS

One of the Marvel Universe's most staggering sagas from two of Britain's most remarkable writers, reprinted in total for the first time! Captain Britain fights to save a universe...and fails! But a single reality is small change in the game Merlyn's playing against Mad Jim Jaspers, who's rewriting reality so he's the center of the universe! Worlds collide, heroes and villains die, and Captain Britain's beside himself - except when he's fighting himself...to the death! Featuring the first appearances of the metamorphic Meggan, Opal Luna Saturnyne, the Captain Britain Corps, and more! Plus: Psylocke joins the X-Men, and the X-Men join Captain Britain on a cosmic quest into the secrets of life and death! The fiendish Fury, the horrific Horde and the malevolent Mojo are only a few of the adversaries who await within! Also guest-starring the New Mutants and Captain America!

Collecting MARVEL SUPER-HEROES (UK) #377-388, THE DAREDEVILS (UK) #1-11, CAPTAIN AMERICA #305-306, MIGHTY WORLD OF MARVEL (UK) #7-16, CAPTAIN BRITAIN (UK) #1-14, NEW MUTANTS ANNUAL #2 and UNCANNY X-MEN ANNUAL #11.
680 PGS./Rated T+ ...$99.99
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3760-3

CAPTAIN BRITAIN BY ALAN MOORE & ALAN DAVIS OMNIBUS HC DAVIS VARIANT DM ONLY
680 PGS./Rated T+ ...$99.99
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3771-9

It's kind of like "Excalibur Volume 0" in a way, isn't it? I can't wait! Thanks, Marvel!

ON INTERVIEWS

Dark Horse's "The Playboy Interviews: The Comedians" contains chat transcripts with a lot of names I'm very interested in: Groucho Marx, Steve Martin, and Bill Cosby, among them. (Plus, for those hipper and trendier than I: Jon Stewart and Tina Fey.) The opening of Martin's interview made me laugh because it's so true:

Playboy: We thought we'd start with your background and work our way up through your --

Martin: Nobody gives a [censored] about where I grew up and all that. That's boring. Even I don't give a [censored]. When I read an interview and it gets to the part where the person grew up, I turn the page.

I hope the editors of "The Comics Journal" read that.

I've only read a few selections from the book so far, but it's amazing. It's available today for $15 and stretches over 450 pages. Dark Horse has published other books in the series, too, focusing on sports stars, movie directors, and others.

5 THINGS I LEARNED ABOUT WRITING FROM PIPELINE

I did a bunch of these last week. Forgive me one more:

1. Open Strongly. It's something I learned from reading Warren Ellis' "Come In Alone" collection of columns, available now through AiT/PlanetLar. Take a look at how he opens each column with something to grab your attention right away, before going back and setting it up or filling in the details. It's something I forget to do more often than I actually do, but I think about it.

2. Avoid excess adjectives very very much. There are good times to use "very very" for emphasis, but most of the times it's just a word count pad that slows the reader down by one word. Write your prose so the eye glides over it, not to call attention to itself.

3. When writing about things in a serialized fashion, use the serial comma. "A, B, or C" is correct. "A, B or C" is wrong. Maybe this is the mathematician/computer programmer in me, but that second option looks like there are only two items in the list: "A" and "B or C." That's wrong.

4. We need an interrobang. There would be no more helpful piece of punctuation, particularly for someone commenting on the craziness of the comics world.

5. The web doesn't care about two spaces between sentences. It's an HTML thing. If you want there to be two spaces after your period, you have to hard-code it in. HTML will take a string of spaces and only show one. It's not really noticeable when you're reading off a computer screen, so I don't worry about it.

It's only out of old habit that I still use two spaces between sentences. As the two space rule is a leftover from early type presses, I wonder if today's kids bother with it? Do teachers still teach it?

It's an all-nostalgia column for Pipeline next week, as I look back at my first comic shop, the books of nine years ago, and a question of modern classics.

The Various and Sundry blog describes how children are like the Windows OS in all its permutations. Also: baby updates, Tweet Compilations, DVD Releases, Random Thought Pieces, and Link Dumps.

My Twitter stream flows briskly, carrying random thoughts through the ether with the force of white rapids. Very Zen.

The daily news bits that grab my attention in the worlds of tech and comics and more can be found at my Google Reader Shared Items. Several items are added to that page every day. I'm an RSS feed junkie.

You can e-mail me your comments on this column, or post them for all the world to see and respond to over on the Pipeline Message Board.

More than 800 columns -- more than eleven years' worth -- are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically.

TAGS:  marvel, captain britain, alan davis, ebay, digital comics

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