Pipeline: A Farewell to the CBG

Tue, January 15th, 2013 at 1:58pm PST | Updated: August 9th, 2013 at 1:01pm

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

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THE DEATH OF CBG

It's only a surprise that it didn't happen sooner. The Comics Buyer's Guide is kaput.

CBG was my entry point into the world of comics journalism. I guess I had probably read "Comics Scene" before that and maybe a "Starlog" or two, but they paled by comparison to a dedicated weekly newspaper. In 1991, that was a revelation. I picked up the first couple editions around the time the news broke that seven Marvel artists were leaving the publisher to form their own company. After that news broke, I haunted the newsstand at the local Waldenbooks to pick up the next edition to see what the next revelation would be. I quickly subscribed and dutifully send in a check every six months thereafter for the $14 - $17 it cost at the time. It was the most exciting mail to arrive for me each week, even when the postal service would mangle it or lose it or delay it to the point where two would arrive together the next week.

Back then, CBG was not just a newspaper, but it was also an old-fashioned New York Times-style fold-over publication. They hadn't morphed into the tabloid format they would adopt soon after. And the monthly magazine was still something like a decade away. This would have to have been somewhere around the 900th issue, maybe? I remember Jim Lee drawing a Deathblow cover for #1000 a couple of years later.

I was introduced to the glory of "Oh, So?", which was the de facto letters column of the comic book industry, where feuds would play out between professionals while earnest fans spoke of their comics highlights and lowlights. (Yes, I had a couple of letters published.) One of my favorite writers at the time, Peter David, was writing the back page editorial, and did to the publication's dying day, donating his pay for it to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.

Don Thompson was the main reviewer of the newspaper in the first few years I read it. I learned a lot about reviewing from him, probably without even realizing it. I definitely stole the phrase, "as subtle as a flying sledgehammer" from him on more than one occasion. I think I also got the "If this is your kind of thing, you'll like it" from him, too. I basically used that last week in my Paul Pope review. He's also the reviewer I'm convinced made "Bone" the success it was in its earliest days. Thompson and CBG got behind that series early on. I was a "late-comer" with issue #6. "Bone," of course, went on to ridiculous levels of success beyond even just the comics industry.

Cat Yronwode (or was it "cat yronwode"?) wrote a thing about something I don't remember. And that's fair, because I bet less than 10% of you reading this have a clue as to who she was anymore. Or Eclipse Comics, for that matter.

Mark Evanier had a column there for a few years, which lead to a couple books before he left in a rights or pay dispute. It all ended well, because we got NewsFromMe.com out of it and a couple of books reprinting the best of those columns.

Tony Isabella is someone that I, as someone who didn't start reading comics until 1989, discovered through his column at CBG, which continued until the publication's dying day. He has a bloggy thing now, too. He's had a couple of different ones over there years, all worth reading. (He recently posted what would have been his column for CBG #1700, too.)

Bob Ingersoll's "The Law Is A Ass" was both my introduction to the Shakespearean quote and to the details of how the law is used in comics, usually wrongly. (The few times they got it right was usually because he had consulted on the script and the writers paid attention.)

There was a classifieds section in the back where you could buy or trade comics, art, and more. That was where newspapers used to make a good chunk of their money before the internet came along and the likes of Cragislist and eBay made them unprofitable. I don't think I ever bought anything out of there, though.

And let's not forget the cartoons. Those came from Brian Douglas Ahearn, first with Cow-Boy and then with The Adventures of Bumpkin Buzz. He's also the first artist I ever commissioned anything from.

I had one of my first print credits in "CBG," also. When the format was just picking up steam, I sent a couple of DVD reviews their way. Eventually, they published one of them. I think it was for the Fleischer-era "Superman" animated series disc. After I submitted it, I never heard from anyone again. I waited a few months and included that review in a Pipeline, instead. (I can't for the life of me find a link to it, though.) And then CBG printed it out of the blue. They never paid me for it, but CBR did, so I considered it a wash. I had heard the lead times were long in CBG, but that was my first and only first-hand experience with it. I would have loved to have written a regular DVD review thing at the time, but I never pursued it, particularly when the first review took so long to see print.

CBG was doomed by ownership that didn't invest in the infrastructure needed to get its digital version properly off the ground, leaving it to others (yes, including CBR) to fill in that gap. Couple that with the small (and ever-decreasing) potential audience for such a publication, the expense of print, and the other competition (again, the classifieds issue), and CBG was doomed. When the press release came out of nowhere last week announcing the end, it was only a surprise that it had lasted so long. And a legion of comic fans screamed out for one last issue, not for the chance for the publication to send itself off properly, but just so the venerable mag could publish a final issue ending in "00" instead of "99".

The brightest spot in all of this, though: "Comics Buyer's Guide" outlasted "Wizard," who actually did invest in digital, but had other issues it could never overcome.

The saddest thing is the press release announcing the end of CBG.

Krause Publications, a division of F+W Media, Inc., announced today the closure of Comics Buyer's Guide effective with the March 2013 issue. The Company cited general poor market conditions and forces working against the title's sustainability including the downturn in print advertising and the proliferation of free content available online for this highly specialized industry.

Can you count the meaningless buzzwords and tired cliches? (Hint: If the word has at least four syllables, it's likely business doublespeak.)

It gets better. Direct from the publisher's President's office:

"We continuously evaluate our portfolio and analyze our content strategy to determine how well we are meeting consumer and Company goals," said David Blansfield, President. "We take into consideration the marketplace we serve and the opportunities available for each of our magazine titles. After much analysis and deliberation, we have determined to cease publication of Comics Buyer's Guide."

If that's the kind of leadership the publication had, then it was a mercy kill. Maybe they used "Firearms and Knives" for tool tips...

Congrats to Maggie Thompson and her merry band of writers for a long run and for fighting an uphill battle for so long. Thanks for the way you shaped comics fandom for forty years. We're all better for it, and we look forward to reading more from all of you in the future, wherever it might be.

Now, is rec.arts.comics.misc still available? What about the CompuServe Comics/Animation Forum? Should I just start writing reviews on parchment, rolling it up, sticking it in a glass bottle, and throwing it out to sea during high tide?

P.S. I tried a search to find Jim Lee's Deathstroke cover to CBG's 1000th issue. I didn't find it, and Google's autofill had some fun with it, at my expense. I doubt either the venerable Comics Buyer's Guide or ComicBookGalaxy.com ever published this suggested list:

"BABY BLUES" AT 20 (WELL, TECHNICALLY 23 NOW...)

Growing up, there was always a newspaper in the house. For a time, my father would make a morning pilgrimage to the local convenience store to get a newspaper. When he'd buy a different newspaper from the usual, it was a golden opportunity for me to see different comic strips.

Before comics, I read the funny pages. The Sunday paper, of course, was always a thrill, but the daily paper was often two glorious pages of comics, and I'd read them all whether I liked them or not. When Dad would pick up the NY Daily News, that was fun because I could read "Dick Tracy." The other local papers didn't carry it.

I drew my own strips, both adventure and comedic, but that didn't go anywhere aside from a bulletin board in eighth grade. That was some of my best "Far Side"-for-education material. Crudely drawn, but the audience liked it.

One of the things I read in my early teenage years was "Baby Blues," from Jerry Scott and Rick Kirkman. It was the story of Wanda and Darryl, two new parents whose first child (Zoe) appears in the strip's first week in January 1990. Clearly, it was not a strip aimed at my demographic. (This is still a full decade or more before MTV would make "Teen Moms" popular.) I got the jokes, though. I had seen enough sit-coms and read enough other comics about kids and parenthood to have an idea for what the experience was like. All the old jokes about giving up on pop culture and the thrills of changing diapers and being too tired for anything were all there on the surface. Rick Kirkman's art was great. His is a big-nosed style that played well with the dialogue or all by itself, in the case of the silent strips and more visual gags.

Top: This was not me in the delivery room, I swear. They didn't let me in until the last second, anyway. Bottom: Some of the great sketches used in developing the strip's second child. Annotations from the authors included.

I haven't seen it in the newspaper in years. I grew up, moved on, and stopped looking at newspapers. "Baby Blues" celebrated its twentieth anniversary in 2010. At the end of 2012, to celebrate those first 20 years, Andrews McMeel published a nice hardcover book to celebrate it all, called "BBXX" (short for "Baby Blues: Decades 1 & 2"). It's done in the style that all high-end comic strip collections are done today. It's a big book, clocking in at over 330 pages. Strips are shown horizontally, three to a page. And the creators have annotations for lots of the strips (a la "Bloom County"). This is a "Best Of" collection. You're not getting everything here, but you get enough to make it feel worth the price of the book, and that likely keeps out some of the repetition. It's an incredibly heavy book, owing to the hardcovers and heavy paperstock. And it's only $35.00.

Top: Another situation I've lived through. Bottom: I do a fair amount of the laundry around the house, thanks. Great art, though.

You can trace the evolution of the family to its current size with three kids, and see how Kirkman's art has developed over the years. It's not a massive shift, to be honest. He's an excellent cartoonist and had a decade or more of experience before this strip started. It all looks great. With so many bad comic strips relying on dialogue to sell everything, Kirkman doesn't. Even a dialogue-heavy strip looks inviting. He knows how to spot blacks -- the mother had a big pile of black hair, which helps -- and how to make characters act. It's not just in the faces, but in the whole bodies. The kids are expressive and bounce across the panels. The parents are beleaguered and tired, frantic and manic, sarcastic and knowing. There's a sense of experimentation throughout the book, whether its in textured backgrounds, sideways panels, forced perspective, hand lettering styles, or just breaking the laws of gravity or anatomy for a quick sight gag.

Here's a great example of life imitating art. When I changed my daughter's car seat to a booster seat recently, this is a pretty good approximation of what it looked like. Please excuse the blurry edge. This book barely fits on my scanner.

I'm in my mid-30s now and have a four year old in the house. These strips sing to me. What was once funny on the surface is now hilarious. Scott's scripts don't just play to the stereotypes. They hit on familiar experiences that every parent has. Some hit closer to home than others, but they're all believable. That's not surprising since Kirkman had a baby in the house when he started the strip, and Scott was soon follow. That's a lot of material to mine. Whether it's the smell of Desitin in a handshake or the overnight stumbles out of bed for a screaming baby, it's all true. Been there, done that. They even find ways to make old and obvious situations of parenting into something new. There's a quick turn of phrase or a solid drawing to sell the gag. There were strips I wanted to cut out of the book and stick on the fridge for my wife to see. I would have that fridge covered inside the first half of the book, though, so I'm glad I didn't.

It's unflinching, too. Scott and Kirkman note it in a lot of the annotations, but they get away with a lot of frank topics that I would never have guessed would fly in the newspapers. I just flipped open to a random strip that included a dialogue balloon with the phrase "vaginal birth." But they also cover a lot of other slightly more sensitive areas than you'd expect to find in the "funny pages," including breast feeding -- on panel. It's nothing vulgar or rude. It's just honest and real. It's the kind of things parents talk about all the time, and it's great to see it there in print.

The book doesn't stop at the comics, though. It includes biographies for both creators, including pictures of them and their previous work, both old and recent. There are bonus pages detailing how the strip started and how they work together. Process geeks rejoice! There's a scrapbook of various things, including pictures of USO tours, a compilation of Sunday title panels that are homages to other bits of pop culture, some unfinished or redone strips, and lots more. The star of the book is still the strips, but the bonus materials are nice.

The book is great for fans of the strip, particularly those who haven't picked up the smaller print compilations over the years. It's a great gift for the parents of newborns, in particular, though it would work just as well for parents of two and four children. And it's a great book for fans of the comic strip form. "Baby Blues" might seem at first like a schmaltzy family sit-com type of strip, but it's much more than that. The way the creators play with the comic strip format and venture into territory other strips play it safely away from, is worth paying attention to.

"BBXX" is available today.

LINKS AND QUICK THOUGHTS

  • The most exciting new release last week turned out to be the return of "The Joe Schmo Show" on SPIKE. A decade ago, the show did two seasons of hilarious reality show parody as a troop of improvising actors fooled one person into thinking they were on the craziest reality show ever. It took a while for people to forget about it, and so they've pulled the prank again. Key to the whole thing is the reality show's host, Frank Garman. He's the funniest part of the show, and he has a Twitter account -- complete with a Batman background.

    See? I can tie anything into comics!

  • Film Crit Hulk rips apart "Les Miserables." The lessons you learn from this essay could easily be applied to comics. For starters, artists need to vary where they put their "camera." Relying on the same medium shots for an entire comic will look stale. It's a long read, but informative and interesting all the way down.

  • Tweet of the Week comes to us from Brian Bendis:

    Miles Morales is officially the senior ranking Spider-man!! :)

  • I hope someday that we learn the true behind-the-scenes story of DC's New 52. I hope we discover that it really was a Hail Mary by management to save the comics line from Warner Bros' ax, and that their choice was between a drastic headlines-grabbing reboot or a total cancellation. That would explain a lot of the issues DC has today. And it would even be forgivable and a noble effort.

    Otherwise? Yikes.

  • The works of Moebius are woefully under-reprinted here in the States. And while I enjoy railing against American audiences for not supporting translated Euro-comics, there's always the possibility that the problem lies on the other side of the ocean, with an uncooperative licensor. This "Moebius USA Petition" Facebook page is all about convincing Moebius' people to let someone reprint his works here. Check out the links on that page to posts from Kim Thompson at Fantagraphics for some background information. For example:

    The U.S. remains totally off the table, not even open to discussion, as does all his other work. It's mystifying and frustrating, and no one knows the reason for this deadlock.

  • I put in an order at Amazon this weekend with my Christmas gift cards. Most were European albums, including four books from Cinebooks ("Largo Winch," "Spirou and Fantasio," and "Orbital"), the fourth volume of Lewis Trondheim's superb "Little Nothings" series, and one of Fantagraphics' "Carl Barks Library" volumes. I've even started to flip through some of the French art blogs again. I'm getting the itch to pick up a "Learn French" book again. I only wish I had the time. . .

  • Blast from the past: I don't know why I decided to re-watch this one over the weekend, but it made me giggle again, many years later: "Ode to the Beyonder." It's the iFanboy Daily video written by Jim that I narrated. If you're an old school "Secret Wars" junky, this one's for you.
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