The biggest news of the weekend, I thought, was IDW going back to their "Artist's Edition" format for "Walter Simonson's Mighty Thor." This is big for a couple of reasons. First, it means that the "Rocketeer" edition from last year wasn't a one time only thing. This is Scott Dunbier's evolution of his "Absolute" format, which is still the premiere format for upscale comic collections. Now, it's a format and not just a one-off curiosity item. Second, it's reprinting a Marvel book, not something creator-owned. So, here's an ex-DC editor now at IDW licensing a book from Marvel. Even better, it's referred to as the first, with the statement that there's more to come.
Creating the Simonson "Thor" book is helped considerably by the fact that Simonson keeps all his original artwork. The pile of art boards in a closet somewhere in his house are legendary at this point, but they help make a book like this possible. It's a big consideration for any future "Artist's Edition" of any comic. Who still has the original art? And could a book like this be done for a series from the last decade, where none of the lettering appears on the page? Would you pay $100 for an essentially unreadable, but very pretty, art book? Or do you place those digital files on top of the art, anyway? Does that ruin the aesthetic or appeal of the book? Or do we accept that this is an art book and we buy it for the art and the story doesn't matter? We own trade paperbacks or upscale hardcover editions of these stories already.
What series would you like to see in this format next? I'm sure all the usual suspects will come up -- Frank Miller's "Daredevil" or Todd McFarlane's "Amazing Spider-Man" or Simonson's "Fantastic Four" or Byrne's "Fantastic Four" or "X-Men," etc. (Don't forget that Byrne does work for IDW these days, so there's a relationship there) The big trouble spot is in finding the art. Forget about a book like this for any 1960s series. Not even the best quality black and white photocopies of the art would work. There are original art collectors who specialize in specific artists and own lots of pages. Dunbier has connections in the original art world, having started as an art dealer. As I recall, there's one guy who owns a boat load of George Perez "Avengers" art. That series, with Kurt Busiek, had computer lettering, though, and a whole project could be sunk if one page is missing from a collector who's gone off the grid.
Does John Romita Jr. sell his art? The only pages I can recall seeing on the open market come via his inkers. His "Daredevil: The Man Without Fear" with Frank Miller would look great in this format. Obviously, something like the Chris Claremont/Jim Lee-era "Uncanny X-Men" would be awesome, but that art is spread out. Finding all those pages would not be easy. But I'd love to see some of that stuff, complete with Tom Orzechowski's hand lettering on the pages. (The good news is, there's an omnibus for that listed on Amazon for this fall.)
Here's a controversial choice: "Ultimate Spider-Man." Even as big a Mark Bagley fan as I am, I don't know that I'd put him in the same league as the artists mentioned above. But I think one person owns all of the thirteenth issue of the series, and the coloring was never the draw in the first place. Also, yes, it has computer lettering.
The more I think about this, the more I get drawn to more recent comics. (Stuart Immonen on "Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E." would be amazing for those double page spreads in issue #12.) I may need to defer to someone who read comics in the 80s for more ideas. What do you think? What books had art you'd like to see at its original size? What artists do that kind of work? (Steve McNiven? Alan Davis? Travis Charest? Gene Colan? Marc Silvestri?)
Maybe we need to think smaller, though. These books aren't being mass produced. They're very limited series. They only need to sell in the hundreds, not in the tens of thousands. You don't necessarily need the most popular title to collect; you need a title that will sell to hardcore devoted fans. This is the way much of the web works today. It's great to have 100,000 readers on your blog every day, but you only need 1,000 "true fans" to buy your t-shirts or books or whatnot to keep your bills paid. If a series that failed quickly due to low sales still had 1000 fans ready to shell out the money to buy an "Artist's Edition," then it could be done. That turns the whole system on its head, don't you think? Find 100 buyers and you might be able to pull off "Keith Giffen/Mike McKone's Vext: Artist's Edition." Or, more seriously, "Terry Moore's Strangers in Paradise: Artist Edition."
How's this for a blockbuster idea: "Artist's Edition: Todd McFarlane's Spawn." He hasn't parted with his original art on that series, as far as I know. Imagine seeing some of the first 12 issues from that series in this format?
If that doesn't work out, I'm sure there are enough of us to make an "Erik Larsen's Savage Dragon" profitable. Right? Larsen has all of his pages, still.
The only hesitation I have on the "Thor" book is that it's being scanned in color, to preserve the yellowing pages, the blue lines, etc. I know this defeats the purpose of the book just a tad, but I think I'd rather have everything be a crisp white, though I suppose that might make it impossible to effectively show off the white-out marks and other edits that the book might show for the first time.
It gives us lots of things to conjecture over. And, for the first time, we've found a reprint project where original art isn't just a help -- it's mandatory. The "Thor" book is due out around Comic-Con International: San Diego, so let the speculation begin!
WONDERCON 2011 -- MISCELLANEOUS BITS
Lots of interesting news bits came out of San Francisco over the weekend. Check out the Complete CBR Round Up for WonderCon 2011, if you have a spare few hours.
Warren Ellis' upcoming run on "Secret Avengers" makes me want to go out and catch up on the series in collections now. More immediately, the Alan Davis-drawn "Avengers: Prime" collection is released as a hardcover this week. It'll look amazing on your bookshelf next to his other six issue collections, like "Killraven," "Fantastic Four: The End" and "Clan Destine." All we need now is the "Alan Davis Excalibur Omnibus." Please, Marvel?
Maybe it's because I'm not a Green Lantern fan, generally speaking, but the movie footage that was released this weekend did nothing for me. It's four minutes of action figures moving around in front of a green screen. I lack the awe and wonder of the characters going in, so perhaps I'm not the right audience for it. If the Lantern-philes love it, though, then it must be doing its job. That's all that counts at this point: whip the converts into a frenzy and hope they bring others with them to the theaters.
Sign me up for the new collections of the original "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles." While I always admired them on the shelves of WaldenBooks in the early 90s, I never bought them. I've never read those original stories, and would love to see them today. I love the aesthetic of those black and white boom books from the late 80s. (Maybe someone can talk IDW into collecting James Dean Smith's "Boris the Bear" next?)
DC's "Retro-Active" event is promising. I may only pick up the Keith Giffen/J.M. DeMatteis "Justice League" story, but that's enough to make the whole thing worth it.
Again, go to the news roundup and start playing catch up. A lot of announcements came down the pike.
PIPELINE, TWO THOUSAND SEVEN
As proof that nothing ever changes in the comics industry, and that the discussions we have today aren't all that different from the ones we have four years ago, I gave you the Pipeline column of April 10th, 2007:
Nevertheless, there are always going to be pirates and the only way to beat them is -- well, you can't. You can only open up their market and extract a percentage of that money from it. It's true that if the pirate market dried up tomorrow, you wouldn't see all those downloaders heading to the local comics shop to buy their weekly fix. No, they'd likely dry up and blow away, on to haunt the likes of the pirate DVD fans or pirate video game junkies.
Let's face it: Comics are too expensive. I've heard all the counter-arguments. Going against the rate of inflation and cost of living allowances of the past five decades, you're not spending more today than you were in the fifties. I know that the paper is better, the artistry is more precise, and expensive computers are used to put all of these things together, resulting in new costs and staff. But you know what? None of that matters. $2.99 - $3.99 for 22 pages of story is just ludicrous, no matter how much work goes into it, how many units are moving, or how much technology is used for it. Since the prices went up slowly, we didn't notice so much, but we're quickly getting to the point where comics will price themselves out of existence. The trade paperback economy is a great stop gap measure, but something greater is needed, and I think digital comics are the answer.
But digital comics are also a great marketing opportunity, and just putting the first issue of specific series up on the website to download and read ain't going to cut it, in the long run. It might spur on some new sales, but it's not going far enough.
And when the time comes that Marvel and DC finally realize their mistakes and put their money into a digital distribution system, I hope they learn the same lesson that Apple and EMI are about to teach the music industry: DRM is not the way to go. It only punishes the legal customers. The others will find a way around it. There is no such thing as a copy-protected anything. There will always be ways around it. The DVD format was broken. Apple's DRM has been broken. Microsoft's formats are easily worked around. So what's the point?
Comics are too expensive? Check
DRM-ed comics aren't going to work? Check.
The comics industry isn't learning its lessons from the music industry? Check
Pirates are going to pirate, and you'll never convert them all to paid customers? Check
Here's the paragraph that made me do a spit take today, in 2011:
The real thing saving the Direct Market right now is the lack of a digital reader that nobody's been able to perfect in the ten years it's been talked about. There are enough people who'd rather drop comics than sit in front of their computer to read them to keep the dead wood flowing out to stores. Maybe Sony's latest attempt will be the breakthrough, but I tend to doubt it. Too many of the latest and greatest of these devices has failed to excite the market. When one comes out and take the industry by storm, though, it'll could be the final nail in the Direct Market's coffin.
The Direct Market, to its credit, still survives. For now.
In a follow-up column, I named three on-line stores for digital comics. One no longer exists. One now only sells digital downloads for games. The last is EyeMelt, which was absorbed into SLG's main website. While we may worry about the glut of digital comics apps today, let's see what he landscape looks like in four years. I'm willing to bet it'll be very different, and include DRM-free downloads, led by a company that could possibly come to dwarf all the companies in the space today.
I can't wait to quote the previous paragraph in 2015 to see if there was any truth to it.