Pipeline: Of Image Comics & Second Printings

Tue, December 18th, 2012 at 2:58pm PST

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

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IMAGE COMICS AND SECOND PRINTINGS

In light of last week's hullabaloo/fracas/kerfuffle, I went through the list of new comic releases for 2012 to see just how many Image comics have been reprinted. The final total I came up with is 87. At least three titles -- "Fatale" #1, "Thief of Thieves" #1, and "Saga" #1 -- had five printings each, plus trade paperbacks. "Thief of Thieves" had at least two printings on each of its first nine issues. "Revival" went back to print on all four issues of its first storyline. "Saga" has had reprints of every issue, including the announcement of one for the issue #7 that spawned this latest controversy. I bet this week's eighth issue will go for a second printing shortly, too. "The Walking Dead" has a big reprinting bill for issues in and around #100. Jonathan Hickman is doing well, with both issues of "Secret" going for two printings and the first four issues of "The Manhattan Projects" going back to press before things finally settled down.

So, yeah, I can't blame Image for being ticked off that retailers still refuse to order enough copies of "Saga" after seven issues with one of the biggest writing names in comics. I was surprised to see "Thief of Thieves" so consistently reprinted, also. There was one creative team change when James Asmus replaced Nick Spencer on writing duties, but the book didn't skip a beat, and I don't think either of those two creators have such a following that it would directly impact initial orders on their issues to that degree. I could understand under-ordering if Kirkman suddenly left the title, but that didn't happen. Nor did it have a pronounced break in its shipping schedule. (That doomed "America's Got Powers" and "Secret".)

Ordering Image Comics is hard. It's not nearly as predictable as what Marvel and DC have going. Those two have a consistent stock of characters and a fairly regular line of creators. You can judge your clientele's tastes by doing some calculations about popularity of characters multiplied by popularity of creators. That will land you in the ballpark of how much to order. With Image, it's a different story. You still get some big names, but they're doing wildly different types of work. Those books may or may not be commercially viable to a large enough audience. Most are miniseries, so long-term prospects are rare. There's no calculus, particularly because trenchant comic fans -- the Wednesday Crowd -- aren't known for following creators as much as they are characters. Internet polls speak to the contrary on this, quite often, but that shows you what a niche of fandom the internet crowd is. I still love you all, though. It drives me nuts as much as it likely does you, but it's the reality we face. "Fatale" is doing well for Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, but not as well as "Captain America," I bet. Hickman's "Avengers" work outsells "The Manhattan Projects" in droves.

So when Image announced they weren't going to do second printings anymore, the immediate outrage and howls from retailers was somewhat understandable, even if some of their reading comprehension was less than stellar. For starters, Image specifically stated that they weren't doing second printings for popular, established series. To quote:

We have decided to cease second printings of single issues of titles that are known over-performers in hopes that it will help initial sales find their proper level.

(Emphasis mine.)

Image isn't so stupid that they were planning on killing second printings all together. When I look at the list of titles that got second printings, most of them are for the first two issues of the series, and then they aren't seen again. "America's Got Powers," "Black Kiss II," "Dancer," "Danger Club," "Epic Kill," "Guarding the Globe," "Peter Panzerfaust," "Supreme" and "Mudman" are all series whose first two issues were reprinted. "AGP" had a long delay to the third issue that seems to have leveled off its sales. The others just might be the poster children for second printings. After two issues, the course was corrected and initial sales were most indicative of final sales.

The next test will be this week with "Happy" #3, by Grant Morrison and Darick Robertson. Both of the first two issues went to second printings. Has the four issue miniseries found its audience now, or are retailers still ordering in the dark? If reprints are still needed with issue #3, does that indicate a need for a third printing on the first two issues? Or do we just wait now for the trade collection and forget monthly sales on the mini? Is it too late to adjust orders on issue #4 given immediate sell-through on issue #3?

More importantly, if second printings were off the table, would initial orders have spiked higher?

Second printings should be a great fail safe for series that take off unexpectedly. They shouldn't be a crutch. They're like any system, though: Created with the best of intentions and mostly used to everyone's benefit, but with just enough people finding a way to game the system that it threatens to break. Change the game and you just open up a whole new set of loopholes for someone to slip through. Build a foolproof system and create a bigger fool. etc., etc.

Image did the right thing in backing off its press release, though I sympathize with their frustrations.

THE FUTURE OF IMAGE SELL-OUTS

Let's take a look at Image's March solicitations and guess at which books retailers will under-order. Er, sorry, which books will comic buyers not tell retailers that they plan to order. No, wait, let's pick the ones that Image creators don't pay out of their pocket to print enough of, despite numbers they're given that won't support such a printing bill. No, sorry, these are the ones the printers refuse to share the pain on and overprint out of their own pockets. See? There's more blame to go around the Direct Market than you had previously cosidered! Why do we always forget those selfish printers who don't share the risk of the Direct Market?

  • "East of West" #1 is the new one from Jonathan Hickman. His books always sell out.

  • "Lost Vegas" #1 is a new four part miniseries from Jim McCann of "Mind the Gap" fame, and Janet Lee, who also did the art on McCann's script for "Return of the Dapper Man." That book won awards. I bet this one gets under-ordered.

  • "Sex" #1 is Joe Casey's subtle ploy for attention. How can a title like that not be sold out in record time?

  • "Walking Dead: The Governor Special" is one everyone will order heavily on, and yet will still sell out too quickly and need a second, if not a third printing, by the time the convention in San Diego rolls around.

  • "Triggergirl 6" #1 collects the storyline from "Creator-Owned Comics" by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, and Phil Noto. That series didn't last for various reasons, but I think this serial was a stand-out in it and will draw fresh attention now that it's isolated. It carries a $5.99 price tag, though, which might stifle sales a bit, or just scare off retailers pre-ordering. I'll take a guess and say it'll go to a second printing, anyway, but before "The Pro" gets is umpteenth printing in its twentieth different format.

  • "Chew" #33 will sell out. It always does. And, as John Layman points out, it doesn't result in higher initial orders. So a second printing is possible.

  • "Five Weapons" #2 will be under-ordered, because orders traditionally drop on a second issue. Can Jimmie Robinson sell the series enough with its first issue to keep the readership anxious enough for #2 to overcome that? He has a good chance with this one. If #1 goes to a second printing, I think this one will, as well.

  • "Invincible" #101 is "The Aftermath" of the "Everybody Dies!" story. Only two issues of the series went to second printings in 2012. I bet issue #100 will, and this one might follow suit. It's a loose bet, but I'll put it out there.

  • "Saga" #11. It always does.

  • "Walking Dead" #108 will sell out. Will it go to a second printing? Probably not. This would be the last issue to be included in the 18th trade paperback of the series, so the trade would function as the reprint.

There are more that stand a chance, but let's come back to this in April to see if any of it pans out, shall we?

NEW RELEASE FROM HUMANOIDS

"Alliance of the Curious" is the latest offering from Humanoids Publishing here in the States. It tells the story of a man on the run from a Secret Society for reasons that play out over the course of the nearly 100 page story. Philippe Riche relies a bit too much on talking heads to tell the story, but the brief bursts of historical interludes and action are enough to keep you turning the page until you get to a satisfying conclusion that leaves the reader wanting more. There is a background story and it is consistent throughout, but you won't quite realize how or why until all is revealed.

The star of the story is the old man who is arrested at the start of the book for failing to pay his store tab while supplying alcohol to his dying mother. As his fortunes dwindle down to nothing and he's left basically homeless, he has a curious series of flashbacks of himself set in past times. Meanwhile, a hustling antiquing couple come across the man's mother's leftovers, and start researching what they find (a jeweled skull), leading them into the middle of a life and death race across France to uncover the mysteries of this secret society. And, because this is a drama, what they find might change what they think of humanity, itself. No, really, it's true.

The characters are not terribly deep, though they are quickly introduced so that you get the gist of what they are as soon as you see them. Later attempts to humanize them more fall flat as being tacked on. This is not a character, piece, however. It's more of a movie done in comic book form, just in the way it's so plot-driven. A little more personality would have made the book more memorable, but the way the book moves to its major plot points is effective enough.

Riche's art is the star of the book. It will remind you a bit of Eduardo Risso's style, minus any filled-in black areas. Riche sticks with the thin lines and adds weight and shadows with the coloring. It reminds me of the manga style coloring, too. There are no gradients and fancy three dimensional sculpting gimmicks in his coloring. He uses flat colors laid out in such a way to give the panels shape and depth. Remember Steve Uy's work, or Rob Haynes'? Riche doesn't knock out the black lines with his colors the way they might, but otherwise follows a similar style. It's a part of the artwork, and not another cog in the assembly line to be tacked on later. His colors are keyed in to the scenes, mostly relying on a yellow/sepia tone look, but also going for stark blues at night and grays for the flashback scenes.

In the end, the book meanders around a bit more than it should. I like the ending it achieves, but there are times when it drags on, leaving the reader too much in the dark or with scenes that only stutter step the narrative forward when you want long strides. Riche's art is top notch and a welcome diversion from so many of the usual popular styles we get used to over time. That helps overcome any of the shortcomings in the story.

The hardcover version of this book is out tomorrow for $29.95. This review is based off a PDF, eliminating many of the issues that Humanoid's print program has had with reprinting oversized pages on standard sized paper. Reading it full-screen off a PDF restores the full size of the pages, but I'm not sure how well it'll work on dead trees. Buyer beware.

(Family friendly warning: There is some language and a two page sequence with adult activities in it, shall we just say. Hey, it's adult bandes desinees. There must be gratuity in there for a page or two somehow!)

THE FUTURE OF DC COLLECTIONS

DC's list of book releases for the upcoming summer is now out. Included in it is an "Authority" hardcover reprinting the classic Warren Ellis/Bryan Hitch 12 issue storyline. Great comics. Everyone should read these. I'm a big fan. I'm not buying it, though. I bought the "Absolute" edition of the book and it's the best investment I ever made. If I had bought the two individual trade paperbacks, I'd be tempted to buy it again in this format. But I already own the "end game" of formats, so there's no such temptation. Sometimes, spending a little bit extra up front saves you from spending more down the line. The "Absolute" format does just that for me.

The August-releasing "Absolute Superman/Batman" volume 1 might be an exception to that. I liked the series, but the smaller hardcovers I own are enough for me with that one.

Meanwhile, if you've never read them before, do yourself the favor of buying the "Batgirl/Robin Year One" trade paperback, collecting both miniseries by Chuck Dixon, Scott Beatty, Marcos Martin, Javier Pulido, et. al. Classic, excellent, adventurous, humorous superhero work in there. Great reads, and remarkable art. That'll be in June, so you have plenty of time to save up $24.99 for it.

THE TIMELINE OF CREATOR POPULARITY

Quick tip to wannabe creators:

1. Comic fans hate you for being new.
2. Then they hate you for not being the old you.
3. Then they hate you for repeating yourself.

Good luck in your career!

THE PROPER DEFINITION OF DIGITAL COMICS

Warren Ellis nailed it on Twitter last week, and it bears repeating:

Next year, I'd like to see the digital comics services stop saying they offer "purchases," & instead admit to "rental for life of service."

It's the biggest reason I haven't switched to buying digital comics regularly. I do buy them here and there to fill in gaps, but I'm not a regular purchaser of anything. The price is still too high and the DRM attached is odious. You don't own a thing you buy from comiXology, folks. If that platform disappears tomorrow, all that money you sunk in has been wasted. It's also like that with movies, if you've purchased them digitally through iTunes or Amazon. I much prefer Blu-rays for that reason. I always own it and many of them come with a digital copy that's as usable as anything you can download and pay more for. I've rented a couple of things through iTunes on the Apple TV, but that's a trade-off. I pay less for the short-term rental. It's more honest than paying more for, effectively, a long-term rental that's so dependent on the platform and is non-transferable. I don't think Apple is going away anytime soon, but I don't like being trapped, as a general rule in digital life. Ask the people who lost their music collection to Microsoft's shifting DRM strategy.

Comics will have to be circling the drain before they get so desperate that they try selling unencumbered DRMs. Sadly, it will likely come to that some day.

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TAGS:  pipeline, image comics, humanoids

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