Pipeline: Christmas in March

Tue, December 20th, 2011 at 2:58pm PST

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

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A couple of long-awaited books top my list of exciting things solicited this week for March publication. One comes from Marvel. The other is from Image, and we'll start there:

The first volume of the "Savage Dragon Ultimate Collection" hardcover series seeks to correct the one major flaw in the publishing program of the long-lived series. The collected editions have always been a bit of a mess. They've been published out of order, they go out of print, there are limited edition hardcovers, there are standard hardcovers, there are trade paperbacks, there are phone books, etc. etc. They've not always been numbered, so you don't have an easy grasp of what comes next. (Too many collected edition series from the late 90s made that mistake, leading to mismatched spine treatments on my bookshelves as numbers came into vogue halfway through a series.) Sure, you could start a new reader off very easily with one or two different books, but the deeper into the catalog you go, the more difficult it is to track down. "Savage Dragon" has been around for so long, that keeping it all in print takes a large cash investment. For a single creator without a best-selling title, that's daunting.

Meanwhile, look at what Robert Kirkman has done with his books. You can set your watch by their reprint publications. There's a six issue trade, a twelve issue hardcover and maybe even an oversized slip-cased bumper edition of two hardcovers combined into one for the adamant money-is-no-object collector. They're all in stock, ready to go and labelled clearly on the spine with a volume number. The popularity of "Invincible" and "The Walking Dead" makes this possible, but is also helped by the reliability and timeliness of the reprints.

Along the way, I think Kirkman has found the perfect reprint standard: the 12 issue hardcover annual. Marvel started this, but seems to have given up on it. There was a February solicitation, at last, for the next such "Ultimate Spider-Man" reprint, but even that's the last hold-out of the publishing program. Marvel has gone Premiere Edition hardcover crazy, and who could blame them? The profit margin on those has to be terrific. It's four to six issues for $20 or $25 (!), versus 12 issues for $30 or, more recently, $40.

If you want to go up-market, Marvel prefers the "Omnibus" style book, but that's less easy to read and carries a large sticker price. The value may be there, but you're asking $75 or more as a point of entry. Other than the difficulty in reading a book that heavy, I don't have a problem with it. There's something for everyone and I'm happy these exist, but they're not my "optimal" reading experience.

For me, the sweet spot is in the oversized hardcover book that reprints 12 issues at a go for $30 to $35. That's the preferred format for my comics library today, which is why I'm thrilled that Erik Larsen is going in that direction with "Dragon," at last. This first volume is $35 for the first 12 issues (the original five issue's worth of mini-series story, and first seven of the on-going), and will likely be the sixth time I've collected those stories. Off the top of my head: original issues, low-price reprints with new material, trade paperback, limited edition hardcover, black and white phonebook style. Now this.

This is just the first volume of many. Let's hope sales continue to push Larsen ahead in this new initiative. It would be wonderful to have 20 of these volumes across my bookshelf one day. I haven't done the math, but by the time the hardcover series would catch up to the monthly series, that's probably what it would be at. At least. Scary, eh?

OK, let's do the math as an exercise, and please forgive me a couple of rounding errors along the way: Issue #180 is solicited in the same month as the first collection. That would be the end of the 15th volume, exactly. Assuming Larsen publishes ten issues a year and two hardcovers a year, he'll be reprinting #180 in seven years with the series, during which time he'll have published an addition 70 books, or almost six volumes, which would take another three years, during which time he'd have publishing another 30 issues, or two and a half volumes of material, which would take another year, putting him 16 issues further behind, and so -- My head hurts. He'd catch up eventually, but not for a long time. It's more than a dozen years into the future.

That's not the only exciting hardcover from Image in March, though. "Tellos Colossal" volume 2 is getting a new solicitation. I'm pretty sure this one was solicited before, but never printed due to low orders. They're trying it again, putting all the non-Mike Wieringo stories, spin-offs, and one shots into one hardcover edition to match the original "Tellos" hardcover of the Wieringo material. There's beautiful work in here from the likes of Mauricet and Craig Rousseau, among others. If you liked the original series, this one has a lot of great follow-up. It's $40 for 240 oversized pages, and should match up neatly next to your "Colossal Tellos" book.

Finally, "The Walking Dead: Cutting Room Floor" is an interesting concept for a hardcover. It collects an odd assortment of stuff: Robert Kirkman's treatments for the series with updated commentary. I think. It's $20 and oversized, with art credits to Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn. The solicitation copy mentions that this covers "early issues," but lacking Tony Moore's name would indicate it's not the earliest issues. Nevertheless, as a process junkie, this volume fascinates me. The covers collection book was a real treat, too, which gives me hope for this one. If it can maintain the same honesty and sense of humor, it'll be worth a read. It's going to match up well with the other book treatments in the series, too.

Brian K. Vaughan returns to comics with "Saga" #1, which has a great many people excited. I only briefly mention it here because I'm focusing on the hardcover books this month.

Now, over to Marvel for the announcement of a book I've been waiting for years on:

"Spider-Man: Perceptions" is the finale of the Todd McFarlane "Spider-Man" hardcover reprint program. While the first storyline of the series, "Torment," has been in print almost since its initial release in paperback or hardcover form, the other dozen or so issues of McFarlane's run on the title has been completely ignored. While the Wolverine story was a little uneven, I think the story inbetween had some of McFarlane's best art of the series. How can you go wrong with Ghost Rider, Spider-Man, and Green Goblin in a two-parter drawn by McFarlane? That storyline is showing up in "Spider-Man: Masques," due out next month, also collecting the title story starring Morbius.

In any case, this book collects that relatively uneven Wolverine story, which was set back by a hand injury McFarlane sustained during its creation, leading to guest inkers. Rick Magyar did most of the fill-in work, though contributions in one issue by Rob Liefeld, Jim Lee, and Scott Williams were notable. I see they're not listed in the credits here. Is that for simplicity's sake, or to avoid the truth of the art's lack of "artistic purity"?

Still, it's nice to finally have all three hardcovers around to collect a notable period of Marvel history, at last. I wonder if we'll see some sort of oversized pseudo-Omnibus edition of the complete run next, if sales are good on these? Even including the Rob Liefeld-drawn "X-Force" crossover issue, it would be a comparatively small Omnibus and eminently readable.

And, yes, my name is included in McFarlane's final issue, wherein he listed the names of all the letter writers in the final letters column. As I recall, it's about a quarter of the way down on the right column. The only other time I had a letter published in a McFarlane book was one issue of "Spawn," though I've long since forgotten which issue.

"Spider-Man: Perceptions" is $19.99 for five issues. That's a bit unfortunate, but what are you going to do? We can't expect Marvel to lower the price to $17.50 since it's an issue short, can we? I think one of the basic rules of marketing says that the tiny price difference won't affect sales one bit, so you might as well take the extra money. I'd have rather see them include something more, but I don't know what would be left. The extra McFarlane covers were reprinted in the "Amazing Spider-Man" Omnibus featuring his art, from what I've read. Including his "G.I. Joe" issue would be too far out of place, not to mention impossible from a licensing perspective. What about the "New Universe" issue? No, you'd need something from McFarlane's latter-era Marvel work, and there's just not much there.

Still, an art book collecting McFarlane's Marvel cover work would be worth a look, so long as it included everything, from the "Conan" cover to the "Quasar" cover and everything in-between.

Moving on...

If you want to penny pinch, ignore the "Secret Avengers Volume 3: Run the Mission. Don't Get Caught. Save the World" Premiere Edition hardcover. This one wins on its title alone, collecting Warren Ellis' recent run of one-shots on the series with artists like David Aja, Jamie McKelvie, Michael Lark, and others. It's six issues, 144 pages, and $25.00. It jumps up by five dollars because -- er, I don't know. Warren Ellis wrote it? It's got too many different artists, so they need the extra money to justify the accounting work of signing more royalty checks?

I was surprised to see "Elektra by Greg Rucka Ultimate Collection TPB" show up, just because it seems so random. On the other hand, since Rucka is doing popular work at Marvel right now in "Punisher," I guess it makes sense to dig into the archives. This one has 16 issues of "Elektra" from 2001 for $35.

I wonder if we'll ever see a premiere edition hardcover for Scott Morse's "Elektra: Glimpse and Echo"? That was one low-selling four issue mini-series that set a great example for the crowd in favor of buying monthlies to ensure a publisher is motivated to later put together a trade.

I'll take the long-anticipated Everest book from Rucka and Morse, instead. (See how I tied that all together there?)

One last little note: "Essential X-Men" volume 10 features black and white X-Men art from the likes of Rob Liefeld, Jim Lee, Art Adams, and Guang Yap. Well, three out of four ain't bad. . . Also: Chris Wozniak, Whilce Portacio, Jackson (nee Butch) Guice, and Jon Bogdanove. Not bad for $20.

Yes, DC had a small flotilla of hardcovers to announce for March, as well, now that the New 52 are reaching the age of reprint. The only one to interest me is the "Justice League" book for Jim Lee's art, but I'll wait that one out for an "Absolute" edition, thanks.

"Batman Volume 1: The Court of Owls" is worth a look, too. That's the Scott Snyder/Greg Capullo run. That one interests me, and I find the possibility of a later oversized reprint less likely. This might be the way to go, with the $25 six issue hardcover.

THIS WEEK IN DIGITAL

If you read nothing else this week, skip over to the The Beat and read Dave Castelnuovo's piece on digital comics. He is the co-creator of "Pocket God," a very popular iPhone app. He's also a comics fan. And he notes in his editorial that the digital comic based on the game has sold a half million downloads. The Direct Market sold a thousand copies. The whole thing is worth a read, but here are three pull quotes to get you started:

"I would love to get back into it if only I could pick up where I left off and read Spider-Man, Avengers, X-Men, Daredevil, etc in order. But with all the renumbering and re-titling it's almost impossible to without a week of research."

Right there is the problem with all the new #1s in comics. It's not the purist fan's issue with losing a long-lasting number. It's not the fact that it's always a gimmick meant to sell a few more copies for a few short months before sales settle back down to a ridiculously low number again. It's the longer-lasting problem that we've now sacrified continuity of numbering and the ease of entry it presents to new readers. The initial thinking is that the trade paperback series numbering would be more important, since that's where new readers would come in. That's laughable, too, since most trade series are numbered almost randomly. Go ahead and look, for example, for the Ed Brubaker run on "Captain America" on trades. Good luck sorting that out without a Wikipedia look-up.

"Price is the biggest obstacle that prevents someone from reading the entire New 52 if they are really intrigued by DC's new universe. They would have to spend $150 bucks a month to read the entire thing. Even the collected edition is $100 in print; this is just too expensive for someone to keep up with regularly and prevents the average reader from becoming immersed in comics."

That part made me laugh just because he's quoting a discounted (most likely on-line) price there, not the Direct Market cover price. Amazon even has the book for $89.99.

If DC wanted to jumpstart their new lineup even more, they should do a huge discount for those first issues. Give a new ready the chance to buy a bundle of every #1 issue for $20 on Christmas Day. That day is one of the biggest sales days of the year for the Apple App store. When people get new devices -- and I'd bet the iPad will be a huge gift this year -- they immediately want to download something to play with. App sales skyrocket. I bet comic sales might do very well this weekend, too. The big winners will be the publishers who see this as an opportunity to bet big.

Or, hey, keep everything the same, enjoy a small one time bump, and carry on with business as usual.

Here's the final bit of wisdom, presented without comment:

"So what do we do? Do we artificially inflate the price of digital books in order to artificially sustain the retail market or do we try and grow the market in a way that wasn't possible until now? By putting pressure on publishers to artificially keep price parity we end up making it more difficult for smaller creators to take risks and innovate."

There's a lot more in the piece, which I suggest everyone interested in this topic -- from either side -- take a look at.

IN CONCLUSION

Merry Christmas! Next week's Pipeline might be a little thin thanks to the holidays, but we'll still be here on Tuesday, as per the usual schedule. Hope you find something four colored in your stocking this year. My Christmas list wound up being dominated by comic book movie Blu-rays. I have a lot of catching up to do in that department from the past year.

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TAGS:  pipeline, savage dragon, image comics, marvel comics, todd mcfarlane, erik larsen, spider-man

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