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Tue, January 25th, 2011 at 1:00pm PST | Updated: January 25th, 2011 at 1:00pm

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

I COME NOT TO PRAISE WIZARD MAGAZINE, BUT TO BURY IT AND DO A JIG ON ITS GRAVE

We lost the print edition of Wizard and the Comics Code Authority in the span of a week? 2011 is off to a very good start, indeed.

Should I just dance on Wizard's grave for five hundred words? I'd really like to, but at the same time, I'm saddened by the opportunities lost with "Wizard." I know it's asking too much for a magazine that made its name capitalizing on the worst of the excesses of the '90s to mature and reform and modernize itself, but -- well, wait, no, it's not. Wizard stagnated, lost its mission, then died. Sadly, it left a path of destruction in its wake that's an ugly scar on the comics world of the last twenty years.

But let's call a spade a spade. The cancellation of the Wizard print magazine and the laying off of a large chunk of its staff is done for one reason: Wizard was going public as a penny stock and needed its financials to look better. There's a lot of red ink that just came off their ledgers with "Wizard Magazine's" shuttering. Have you ever wondered why you see such big layoffs at companies shortly before the end of the financial quarter? Companies often rely on those layoffs to make claims that their outlook is great and that they've tightened their belts. Problem is, layoffs are a one time thing that don't add real value to the company. They're a bandage on the problem and, from all accounts, the open wound is further up the chain of command.

So who's running the online magazine? How big a staff would this venture have? What freelancers in their right mind would want to work with Wizard, were that opportunity available? The new site has to be run cheap and lean, so no large editorial staff and no columnist parade. The new Wizard Magazine will have to repurpose content from around the web. What Wizard needs is a link curator. That's why I suggest they hire Dirk Deppey today. He ran Journalista! in half-a-day's work. Imagine what he could do with 40 hours a week.

I'm only half joking here.

But Dirk would run a comics-focused thing, and that's not what Wizard is. Wizard is a Hollywood press release factory, not a comic book press release reprinter. It caters to a low-brow crowd and the lowest common denominator. It feeds off cheap genre nostalgia. It once upon a time tried to swing its weight around and is now feeling the pain from losing said weight. Once Wizard lost the support of Marvel and DC, it's days were numbered.

But, hey, at least it gave us "Gatecrasher." It wasn't all bad. Just most of it.

OK, it also gave Brian Douglas Ahearn a regular gig drawing a calendar that was pretty cool every month. Here, take a look at the entry from August 1996:

I also see the backlash to the Wizard backlash has kicked in within 24 hours, as people scurry to defend the people who've worked there, or to defend themselves.

Apparently, nobody has ever been responsible for the piece of crap "Wizard" was in the last 10 - 15 years. But the only "willfully ignorant" people in this whole situation were the people who thought working for Gareb Shamus would ever end well. Firings by Facebook messages, for goodness sake? This is a banana republic, at best, and not a serious publishing company or even respectable business operation. (But, then, what did we expect from a company that staged live wrestling in the middle of comic conventions?)

Sure, perhaps there's a chance that Wizard's content became something close to respectable near the end. But why should anyone ever give it the chance? Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. Burn the bridge behind me, laughing while throwing gas on the fire and then farting in the general direction of my face? Screw you and your magazine. Honestly.

Yes, I just did a fart joke there (bonus points for being a pop culture reference) to keep things on Wizard's level, so they might understand what happened to their publication. You know, those features on guessing characters by close-ups on their ass don't write themselves. Don't believe me? Let's check out a "Wizard" cover of relatively recent vintage. How about December 2008? It's a cover featuring Scarlet Johansson's chest and a top headline promising the undress the Silk Spectre. You'll note the only comics-related headline on the cover is there because Kevin Smith was doing the writing. (Was there ever a better match between publisher and creator than Kevin Smith and Wizard?)

"But, wait," you say, "that's the newsstand cover, meant to appeal to the Average Joe. The Direct Market edition is better." True, that cover is all about "Secret Invasion," an actual publishing event. It also features Spider-Woman's hip thrust out to the side and shoulders pushed back to really get those melons in your face. And, yes, the same Silk Spectre headline is used above that.

Wizard didn't deserve any more second chances. Good riddance to bad rubbish and all that.

Thankfully, if you want a magazine printed on paper to read, you still have "Comics Buyer's Guide" and the entire output of TwoMorrows. The print comics publication is a dying breed, and the last of the big trees has now fallen. Let's see how long TwoMorrows and Krause can hold on to the edge of this particular cliff.

As for the digital version of "Wizard," I expect it to be as empty and vacant and worthless as the printed version. Why would I think anything else? Let's take a look next month, if it shows up on time.

A MODEST PROPOSAL

This is one of those ideas I nearly jumped in on with both feet over the weekend. Sadly, the first and best domain name I could think of was already taken, and that killed the forward momentum and any progress.

We need a site dedicated to two dollar comics. Skottie Young led the way with a $2 edition of his webcomic. This week, Chris Eliopoulos upped the ante, releasing the first volume collecting his "Misery Loves Sherman" strips in one PDF for the same $2 price point.

That's a lot of reading for such a small price, but, psychologically, it's a great price point. People will spend $2 without thinking about it. $5 would get them to thinking and the creator would lose a lot of sales. $2.99, I think, would give some people pause about buying it. But for $2, you'll get all the impulse purchasers, gather in all the readers who'd otherwise look to make excuses for not buying something, and still get the value-conscious consumer. And since, in both cases, this was pre-existing material that the creators own whole-hog, there was no further development costs in putting this out as a PDF. The production on the material was complete. Just translate the file from whatever book layout engine was used in the first place to plain old PDF, and you're good to go.

There needs to be a name for this movement, and I wish I was clever enough to come up with it. But here are my suggestions for how we define it:

  1. The digital download is $2.

  2. No DRM.

  3. It's in a format that's readable by a vast majority of devices. That means a PDF is best, but I suppose a CBZ file might do.

  4. The virtual book is at least 50 pages worth of material.

  5. It's OK to transfer that file to multiple devices that you own.

  6. It's near-instantly downloadable to the purchaser. Either a link is provided on the web page after you click the purchase button, or an email hits your in box within five minutes with a link to the file, or the file itself.

That takes care of all the pain points a consumer might have, aside from the fact that it's a digital publication and not a dead wood one. Hey, you can't please everyone!

This process is do-able. Yes, it takes a self-starter to go ahead and put the pieces together, but I'm sure you can ask those who came before you about it. Skottie Young has mentioned that he's already sold close to 400 copies of his PDF in the first week. After PayPal fees, that's $1.64 a copy, so that's a good $656 in Young's bank account for a very minor amount of work over the course of a few days of research. No, it's not enough to retire on or to quit the day job from, but it's an additional income stream for a freelancer, which is something all freelancers need to be thinking about today. And it has no middle man, so all of the money goes to the creator after PayPal fees. (Aside from cash on hand, there's no way to transfer money across the internet without fees, so PayPal looks not unreasonable. A 30% Apple cut leaves a creator only $1.40 after fees, for one example, and that doesn't include the development efforts of a full-fledged app.)

Imagine buying a PDF with 100 pages of an artist's sketchbook material in it for $2. There are artists I'd do that for in a heartbeat -- Mike McKone, Guy Davis, Erik Larsen, Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee (the man has tweeted at least 100 sketches by now, hasn't he?), Todd Nauck and Jamal Igle all immediately come to mind. Putting together a paper compilation of such things is not a trivial process and takes a lot of work and time. Putting together a digital version? Can be done in a day, particularly after you've done the first one and built your own infrastructure (web page) and workflow (convert to PDF, design a layout) for it.

Obviously, this isn't going to work for everyone or for everything, but there's a big backlog of material out there that I think creators might be pleasantly surprised to see their fans support.

Here's another idea: $2 comics from European artists whose work isn't being translated over here. Some of them have huge followings in their native lands that will make their books a profit, but imagine American fans picking up on their art from buying these cheap PDFs with just their sketchbooks or art blogs? A new fandom could emerge, and one which might make an English language translation of European work more palatable to publishers. Sure, the file might need to cost a bit more to handle any currency conversion, but I'd still drop the money without thinking about it for more work from Denis Bodart or Francois Schuiten or Adrien Floch, amongst dozens of others I probably don't know of yet. I think this idea excites me more than any of the others mentioned above.

I hope the $2 digital comic catches on in a bigger way. It might seem like a gamble, but I think it's the only idea I've seen online so far which takes all of the best aspects of digital comics and pushes them far enough to make sense. Then, I hope some enterprising individual comes along to create the blog to follow the movement and chart its progress. If this explodes, a directory to all $2 comics would be a very handy thing.

This doesn't have to be dogmatic, though -- there's wiggle room, of course. I wouldn't blink at spending $2.50 for any of the $2 titles mentioned above. (In Young's case above, he could make the same amount of money by selling 100 units less with just a 50 cent increase in price.) And would a 40 page book be that much lesser a value than a 50 page book? Would that page count encourage more people to insert "design" pages instead of content pages, just to pad the page count? Would such terms and conditions stop people from making $5 or $10 digital original graphic novels? Or would we wind up seeing new serializations of that -- 50 pages for $2, but you'll need to buy four to get the whole story. Maybe there should be an additional bullet point for "self-contained" in the outline above.

There's room in the digital world for all sorts of formats and price points and experiments and I look forward to seeing them all. What I'm describing here is a movement towards one format. It shouldn't discourage others from taking other chances.

As I have spent the last two days writing this column, though, two more creators have jumped on board: Mike Maihack is now offering "Cleopatra in Space" Volume 1 for $2, and Katie Cooke has her "[Starred Out Expletive Deleted] You, Box" mini-comic as a PDF for $2, as well.

"Cleopatra" is being offered through a larger site, "The Illustrated Section," which features digital comics exclusively in PDF form. Price points and quality vary across the line, but if the only thing to come out of this "movement" is a greater acceptance of open formats, then I'm all for it.

And the longer I take the write the column, the more comics come through. I'm very excited to see "Cemetery Blues" return as a digital comic. It may only be 32 pages, but it's in full color and can be had for only a dollar!

Also, by the time this column sees virtual print, Skottie Young will have likely sold his 500th PDF, which nets him $800. Given that PayPal has a flat fee per transaction in addition to a percentage of the final sale, a few calculations show that a $2.50 price point would have brought him over $1000, or that he could have made the same money at a $2.50 price point while selling only 375 copies. So, yeah, I'm flexible on those definitions above. I think the market will sort itself out over time, but I hope "cheap" and "DRM-free" become the norm. Economies of scale will be necessary for the former, and nerve for the latter.

ODDS AND ENDS

CCA Folds, Wal-Mart Picks Up the Pieces, Hires New Greeters: The Comics Code Authority is dead! At last, the "Green Lantern" family of comics can let loose. There's no need to hold back from showing characters vomiting blood on the cover or putting women on leashes. Oh, wait:

Wait, what was the point of CCA again?

Maybe now Marvel will go back to that "X-Force"/"Spider-Man" crossover and reinsert the art of Shatterstar's sword going through Juggernaut's eye? Todd McFarlane's creative soul needs redemption!

Can we get Dale Keown's "Incredible Hulk"-drawn blood back to red and not black?

And how about taking off those poorly colored-in tops from the characters drawn by Greg Capullo in "X-Force," as the waves crash up against their chained bodies and --

-- Nah, maybe it's enough to leave the past alone. I'm starting to disturb myself.

Publishing notes: That "Art of Todd McFarlane" book missed the Christmas shopping season, didn't it? And, as Charlie Huffman pointed out to me on Twitter, so did the "Battle Chasers" hardcover. Which is less surprising to you?

Podcast-a-palooza: Congratulations to Chris Marshall on the 300th edition of his Collected Comics Library. He'll also be celebrating his sixth podcasting anniversary in the weeks ahead, as one of the original comics podcasters. The three hundredth episode is a great outing, too, featuring an interview with Charles Pelto, of the one man publishing company Classic Comics Press. I'll be ordering the two volumes of "Dondy" soon, thanks to that interview.

Piling On: I agree with Dean Haspiel completely. The digital age has the capability of redefining how comics creators make a living. We live in most interesting and exciting times and the future for a do-it-yourselfer is very great, indeed. It's also the start of a possible new business model for third parties to, for example, sell advertising in those self-published digital works. Who will be the Federated Media for comics? There has to be a hustler out there with connections to make that work? We'll see that someday, I'm sure.

DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS DEPARTMENT

"Lucky Luke" is drawn in the Charleloi style, not Ligne Claire. I learn something new everyday. Thanks to Oletheros on the Pipeline Message Boards for pointing that out, with linkage.

Also on the boards, DNAlien points out that AliveTorrents isn't a great source for download totals of torrents, particularly since they claim thousands of torrents for issues of "Savage Dragon" which aren't out yet. If nothing else, I'm happy to have shown publicly how little I know about illegal comic book downloads. For journalistic reasons, I really need to explore that world better. I'm just afraid to ask for pointers.

Elsewhere on my corners of the web:

VariousAndSundry.com sees the return of "American Idol," but all the real action is over on AugieShoots.com, with the start of the new "Photographic Fives" feature. Derek Jeter's butt, HDR apps for the iPhone, and lots more.

How to get in touch: Twitter @augiedb || E-mail || Pipeline Message Board

TAGS:  pipeline, wizard magazine, digital comics

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