Pipeline

Tue, March 16th, 2010 at 1:58pm PDT

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

CONVENTIONS AND DIGITAL COMICS

The Webcomics Weekly podcast has spent a little time in the last couple of shows discussing how the rise of digital comics might upset the comics convention business. The general gist of what they've said, as I read it, is that digital comics lead to fewer comic shops leads to a decline in the local comics convention scene.

I think that misses the point completely, and that the exact opposite thing is possible. Let me explain my logic on this one. And, of course, we're all theorizing here. As with any hypothetical, one variable change could upset the whole apple cart.

The theoretical rise of digital comics changes the game, but doesn't kill it. The first point brought up in the podcast was about publicizing the comics convention, much of which is done today through the local comic shops. Without those local comic shops, where do you advertise?

How about the digital comic shops? (Longbox, Graphic.ly, Panelfly, etc.) As a technological bonus, those services will have terrific demographic information in their database. There's no reason a smaller local show wouldn't be able to advertise to only those users of a given service in its own area. So if you're running a dealer show out of the Holiday Inn in Boise, those digital shops should be able to only show your ads to people within an hour or two of that ballroom. It adds a layer of complexity to their programming, but I think that level of granularity is going to be necessary in the future. And doing so wouldn't compromise anyone's security or personal information. Those "shops" don't need to tell the advertiser specifically who they're advertising to, just that it's an anonymous group of x number of people in a y-mile vicinity.

How about advertising in the digital comics, themselves? There will be ads in digital comics. I haven't seen anyone discuss this, but I get the feeling a lot of people are excited over ad-free digital comics, and I don't think that's legitimate. More ad sales are moving on-line now than ever before. It's almost achieved parity in some segments of the business population. Advertisers of a certain type will want to target their ads to the comics fans, first and foremost. Digital comic shops will give them better and tighter demographics to aim their ads at, which is growing more valuable these days than sheer volume of eyeballs. And see the previous paragraph: Maybe the ads in a comic can be tailored to specific groups of people based on their demographics.

You still have the local media -- newspapers and the like -- and even the local internet, with the push on now for "hyper-local" news. Advertising isn't dead. It just needs to be more relevant. Check out the interactions today's conventions have with their host cities -- the types of things C2E2 is doing with the city of Chicago, and things Jim Demonakos talks about with the city of Seattle. Even in a hypothetical situation where a city has zero comic book shops, those tourist dollars are still valuable, and much wanted by the local businesses.

But as we've seen so often at conventions lately, if you can't sell tickets at the door because the fire marshall says you're already full, then all that advertising is meaningless. It's like the San Diego Comic-Con advertising the convention in local comic shops the week before the convention, months after all tickets are sold. I'm digressing. Back to the topic:

My second major argument against slower conventions: In a world where digital comics are more readily available to one and all, more people will read them. Maybe this is Blue Sky thinking on my part, but I still think distribution is the biggest problem with comics today. Losing the supermarket and drug store racks has been killing this industry for the last 20 years. As we've hidden ourselves in the Direct Market, we've shut out the larger outside market. (Thank goodness for the good retailers who do reach out to their local communities to spread the word, but it's still nothing like seeing comics at every store you walk into every day.) With digital comics, everyone will have a comic shop as close as their nearest computer/phone/tablet device.

More people reading comics give you more people interested in your convention.

Finally, the lack of a central weekly gathering spot for like-minded individuals, i.e. the Wednesday crowd at your LCS, means fans will need these conventions more than ever to see each other face to face. Not everyone likes to be shut in their mother's basement, as the hoary old cliché goes. People do like to get out of the house once in a while. Even me.

The mere existence of comic book message boards, even busy ones such as we have here at CBR, is not enough. They haven't replaced comic book conventions, which I'm sure was conventional wisdom ten years ago. Comicon.com, for example. was founded to become an on-line comic book convention. That hasn't killed Comic-Con International: San Diego, has it? Conventions have only gotten more popular and more numerous, even with thousands of on-line "communities" springing up around every facet of the hobby.

Conventions are far from dead. Right now, we're in the middle of their reinvention. The smaller conventions are growing at an amazing rate, New York and Chicago have cons in their infancies which are faring well, by all standards. Wizard, who single handedly tried to kill the convention circuit with rapid expansion, has reshuffled its deck to merely rebrand some of the smaller local shows around the country and help boost them up.

I think convention organizers are the one group of people who should be most welcoming of digital comics, for the potential halo effect they'll have on convention ticket sales. No 32-page comics to have signed? No problem; fans will go to autograph books, or trades, or special convention-specific prints, or con booklets. These are all things happening now, but you'll see more of it to replace what gets lost.

That's why I don't think conventions will be impacted by digital comics in the long term. I think the last decade of the internet's "virtual convention" not impacting "real world" convention meet-ups means that the rise of digital comics won't hurt those same conventions. The only dangers to conventions that I see are there being so many of them that there aren't enough creators to go around to attract people to them. Con fatigue. That'll be a natural market contraction, and likely be followed by an expansion shortly thereafter, and the normal ebb and flow of life will continue.

THE DEVIL, YOU SAY

This is the 666th week of Pipeline Commentary and Review.

To celebrate this non-event milestone, let us look at our friend, the devil. Mephistopheles. Old Scratch. [Insert ten more names that Neil Gaiman could roll off without thinking.]

Or, if you're more of a Marvel reader than anything else, Mephisto. He's been popping up an awful lot in my longbox searches. Here are three highlights:

Who could forget (er, "remember") his starring role in the second year crescendo of the "Wonder Man" series from the early '90s? Written by Gerard Jones and drawn by the up-and-coming Jeff Johnson, this four part tale had interlocking covers and, because this was 1993, the final one was embossed. Simon's abs were tactile.

I'm tempted to go back and Pipeline Retro this series, but as I recall it petered out pretty fast, though it lasted 28 issues total. It started strong with Terry Austin on inks, but he only lasted three issues. Joe Rosas' color was a dream, fresh off his run with Jim Lee on "Uncanny X-Men." He was doing special effects coloring before Photoshop, cutting in shadows and using brighter colors to set his work apart from the pack.

I can't get enough of this issue of "Silver Surfer," in which Thanos made the Devil his lackey. Writers: If you want to ramp up the power of your villain, prove that's so strong that even the Devil would bow before him. Anything short of that, and forget your cosmic event.

Perhaps the greatest appearance of Mephisto, though, came in "The Black Panther," as written by Christopher Priest in the earliest days of the Marvel Knights. This is Priest doing his "One Punch!" moment, subbing in Black Panther and Mephisto for Batman and Green Lantern. Also, Everett K. Ross was given the devil's pants, which his crotch did not react favorably towards. And then there was that issue in hell where Black Panther beat the devil at his own game, mostly overshadowed by the fact that Mark Texeira didn't draw it. Fill-in artist! Argh!

Only two trades of that "Black Panther" series were ever published, but the first one's a keeper for the Mephisto appearances, alone. There are lots of laugh-out-loud moments in there, jam packed into an actual plot. It's a shame that Marvel doesn't want to re-reprint it today.

It only now dawns on me that for as serious a threat as Mephisto should be, he sure does get his butt handed to him on a regular basis...

We're a little short this week, due to a flooded basement over the weekend. (Only a handful of comics were lost, thankfully.) Due to that, next week's planned Blu Ray review will be delayed by a week while the place gets dried out and the home theater is wired back in again. In its place, we'll look at a French import that's pretty cool, though with a couple of frustrating weaknesses.

And in my spare time: I'm podcasting, both in audio and slideshow format. I'm Twittering, photoblogging, and blogging.. E-mail me!

Talk at the Pipeline Message Board, and catch up on nearly 13 years of columns in the Pipeline Archives.

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