Comics

A (Graphic) Novel Idea

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Over at TCS Daily, Joshua Elder notes that graphic novels—comic books in paperback form—are the fastest-growing segment of the publishing industry. This despite the death of comic stores and of monthly, $3 comics.

Today the only retail outlets that typically sell comic periodicals are comic book specialty stores which too often are unkempt, uncool and unwelcoming to anyone who isn't a hardcore superhero fan. This made it next to impossible for any comics other than superhero comics to succeed in the marketplace. And by alienating the general public, it ensured that comic sales would continue to spiral downwards since there was no way to recruit new fans as the old ones died off or left the hobby.

There has to be some irony in the fact that animated web comics—those hyped inventions of the late 1990s—have gone nowhere, while comics repacked as dusty old books are keeping the medium alive.

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  1. I think you should have done this post in comix form.

  2. There has to be some irony in the fact that animated web comics – those hyped inventions of the late 1990s – have gone nowhere, while comics repacked as dusty old books are keeping the medium alive.

    You’re gonna hurt Strong Bad’s feelings, if’n ya keep up with that talk.

  3. Most animated webcomics are pretty lame, it’s true. But there are some truly great regular old comics out there, and some folks make a fine living at it. Penny Arcade, PvP, SinFest, Scary Go Round, Something Positive and Achewood come to mind off the top of my head.

  4. And Jib-Jab didn’t exactly go nowhere with their (increasingly lame) satires.

  5. lunchstealer, maybe someone should send an e-mail to Strong Bad about this.

  6. It should be noted that Manga counts as “graphic novels”, and is probably the driving force behind this trend.

    I really doubt non-comics enthusiasts are really picking up Ultimate Fantastic Four, Villains United, Preacher, Y the Last Man, Sandman, Invincible, or Transmetropolitan.

  7. For me, the best thing about graphic novels is that the library has them. I quite enjoyed Bagge’s graphic novel collection “Buddy Does Seattle,” which the Mid Manhattan branch of the New York Public Library has several copies of, but I would never even consider buying all those issues of “Hate.”

  8. Fantom Comics is a comic book store in the DC area that’s based entirely on being clean, open and inclusive to non-comic book readers…and that carries tons of graphic novels. And that has a ruggedly handsome owner. http://www.fantomcomics.com

  9. Yeah, domestically-produced “graphic novels” are more or less stagnant compared to manga. Manga’s shelf presence has grown from zero to several bookcases in most bookstores I’ve been in over the last few years.

    The webcomics scene has grown at a ferocious rate over the last three years, as Timothy points out above. The business model of the financially successful webcomics is pretty interesting: deliver a more or less traditional comic-strip experience for free–which the internet makes logistically feasible–and make money off merchandising and printed collections.

    The popular strips tend not to use the multimedia bells and whistles that thinkers like Scott “Understanding Comics” McCloud anticipated, with one interesting exception: many of them (e.g. Overcompensating, Achewood, Dr. McNinja) use mouseover text to deliver a second, hidden punchline.

  10. This post was just brought to my attention, and I?m excited to see graphic novels getting the attention they deserve. I’m the owner of Fantom Comics (referred to by the previous poster). I don’t want to turn this into an advertisement, I just wanted to note that the comic book stores with rude and unhygienic owners and dimly lit, smelly atmospheres are a dying breed. Don’t get me wrong, they’re still out there, but I don’t know of any of those kind in DC.

    cheers,
    Matt Klokel

    PS: My handsomeness (rugged or otherwise) is up for debate.

  11. Matt, For principled reasons that I’m sure you will understand, I cannot rate your handsomeness any higher than a 7 of 10.

    That said, Fantom Comics is awesome!

  12. I really doubt non-comics enthusiasts are really picking up Ultimate Fantastic Four, Villains United, Preacher, Y the Last Man, Sandman, Invincible, or Transmetropolitan.

    I don’t think I can count myself as a comics enthusiast, but I’ve picked up Preacher, Sandman and Transmet, and I’ve read a little bit of Invincible. I absolutely loved Transmet, really liked Sandman, “meh” on Preacher. I also got into Red Star, ironically enough. I liked them primarily because the sum combination of story and art makes for a fun read – some of them are short of story and long on art (Red Star), short on art, long on story (Sandman), strong at both (Transmet) or weak on both (Preacher). I don’t think you need to be an enthusiast for the medium (which I think is a pretty stupid reason to like anything in particular) to enjoy these works.

  13. As a side note to the “comic book stores are failing” meme, please note that (at least in Texas, where I live) comic books & graphic novels are a line (primary or secondary, rarely tertiary) of merchandise in stores targeting the Role Playing Game (RPG) market (example RPG for non-gaming Reasonoids: the infamous Dungeon & Dragons fantasy game). Both markets are strongly dominated by the 16 – 24 male demographic. These stores are under threat by Net vendors, who can capitalize on their lower overhead & staffing costs.

    My question is: Does anyone know how much Manga/Graphic Novel items Amazon sells?

  14. Also on the topic of bells and whistles- Achewood, Dr. McNinja, Overcompensating, and Dinosaur Comics are all solid strips as is before the bells and whistles.

    The only problem is that in my copy of Firefox long mouseover text gets cut off. Anyone know how to fix that?

    -Jeff “Three days! Three acres! Three thousand men!” L

  15. Wasn’t Joshua Elder the one who called Superman anti-american for questioning president Luthor’s orders? (please correct me if I’m wrong).

    If I recall my Vertigo history Sandman had a hardcore goth following, and a lot of its readership wasn’t into comics. The good news is that non-superhero books are holding their own against mainstream comics.
    Warren Ellis once commented that comics is the only scene where unbearably pretty and well-endowed people dressed in colorful tights flying around and beating each other up can be considered “mainstream.”

    Rafuzo: You thought Preacher had weak art? I thought the story dragged in parts (the whole thing could have easily been 60 issues) but I thought the art rocked! Just look at Arseface!

  16. (Grouch Rant)

    Twenty years ago when I was reading comics, I thought it was crazy that there were half a dozen books devoted to X-men. I also thought it was crazy that books hit the dollar mark.

    Apparently, things have gone completely downhill from there. From what I understand, the Spider-man clone from the 70s came back and had his own comic?! And Peter Parker died, came back to life, and now has new powers?! What the hell are these writers smoking?!

    And I don’t get this “Manga” thing. Go to a bookstore and there’s thousands of this books.. which you can only differentiate by the volume numbers. How the fuck do people keep up with these incomprehensible Japanese storylines? Or is this just all an outlet for kiddie porn?

  17. Sorry to inform you, Rafuzo, but you are what passes for a “comics enthusiast”. When I talk about people who aren’t into comics, I’m talking about Mom & Pop suburbia. You cite the goth subculture as being “not into comics”, but my experiences with “that crowd” have been pretty much the opposite (especially with Moore, [ugh] Spawn, JTHM/Vasquez, and Gaiman).

    You are a different demographic than a comic collector, or a comic nut, but you are definately snared deep enough that you’ve heard about Ellis, Millar, and Moore.

  18. I think you almost hit it, Mr. Nice Guy – they’re smoking the manga.

    Why aren’t $3 funnybooks selling? That question answers itself.

  19. Kiddie porn? Tee hee hee!
    (Thinly veilled phallic monster breaks through wall)
    Aeeeeiiiiii! Run!
    (Someone pulls out an impossibly large sword. There is much yelling.)
    OH NO!
    (I just lose track of it at this point.)

  20. It should be noted that Manga counts as “graphic novels”, and is probably the driving force behind this trend.

    Good God yes. I’m not aware of any part of the English-language comics industry that’s genuinely expanding its market. The superhero market is hurting, with DC and Marvel focusing on aging Comic Book Guys to the detriment of gaining new readers. The rest of the market (Warren Ellis so has a point there) is finding it a tough go, especially as the shelf-space in bookstores for non-manga trade paperbacks is so dominated by superhero stuff.

    Meanwhile, manga…dang. A bazillion publishers willing to translate and send over comics in every genre anybody could be interested in. I haven’t seen a comic-carrying bookstore lately that hasn’t had a much larger manga section than “traditional” comics and TPBs.

  21. Where does one buy these “graphic novels” outside of a collector’s comic store?

  22. Any Big Box bookstore has a Comics/Graphic Novel section, usually near SF/Fantasy. SOmetimes they’re near he art books.

  23. You can also find a decent selection at some Targets or Walmarts that sell books.

  24. graphic novels – comic books in paperback form

    So it’s the size and thickness of the product and not the content that has killed one and boosted the other? Or do graphic “novels” offer fresher material than their old-fashioned cousins? I have no idea. The last comic book I read was a 60s copy of Archie. Man, that Veronica was way hot. And baaad.

  25. I think there should be an Iron-Chef type competition where Manga writers are under a clock to create storylines without:

    a) Rape
    b) Child Porn

    Let the challenge begin.

  26. At Comic-Con every year, TokyoPop gives away freebie manga teaser compilations, while the back issue comic dealers are charging hundreds of dollars for stuff printed before I was born — and the dealers have about 10 times the square footage of the manga producers. Manga may be getting bigger, but it’s still nothing compared to the comic scene of 30+ years ago. I’ve always assumed that was due to the rise of a) RPG gaming (AD&D, Magic, and the kiddie starter stuff — Pokemon et al) and b) video games. The cultural niche that comic books filled has been taken over by other stuff. And if anything, the kids I know who read manga are treating it like reading a book or watching a television series; it’s not the sort of thing you slip into a back pocket and smuggle into 5th period Earth Science, and it’s not particularly amenable to sitting in the back seat and ignoring your sister on a long trip, either.

    I think also that part of the decline of comics comes from kids’ desire for more information — any single comic issue is a relatively short read, while a video game like Final Fantasy lasts for 90+ hours on the first time through, and the experience varies each time you play it. And it’s a lot easier to get your parents to buy you one $25 game than 100 $1 comic book issues (let alone 100 $3 issues.)

    Our local comic/hobby/gaming store is frankly scary — the customers give any girl under 40 the Stare of Doom (especially if she’s wearing pastels or any makeup,) and the staff acts like she’s intruding on the territory of the 4th Grade Anti-Girls Society. My sisters adore comics and manga and gaming, and they have their father buy it for them at conventions, or at Barnes & Noble when he can, because they hate going to that shop. I also bring a wish list to Comic-Con; hence my familiarity with the TokyoPop booth.

  27. Warren Ellis once commented that comics is the only scene where unbearably pretty and well-endowed people dressed in colorful tights flying around and beating each other up can be considered “mainstream.”

    To bad Warren Ellis couldn’t write his way out a wet paper bag.

  28. Our local comic/hobby/gaming store is frankly scary — the customers give any girl under 40 the Stare of Doom (especially if she’s wearing pastels or any makeup,)

    The stare is probably more shock than anything else. They rarely see women up close.

    To bad Warren Ellis couldn’t write his way out a wet paper bag. I love Planetary, when it comes out, but I’m a sucker for any Wold-Newton style stories.

  29. “Today the only retail outlets that typically sell comic periodicals are comic book specialty stores which too often are unkempt, uncool and unwelcoming to anyone who isn’t a hardcore superhero fan. This made it next to impossible for any comics other than superhero comics to succeed in the marketplace. And by alienating the general public, it ensured that comic sales would continue to spiral downwards since there was no way to recruit new fans as the old ones died off or left the hobby.”

    I see a very similar parallel to many gun stores. Often dingy, poorly lit, dirty, and run by anti-social slobs who seem more intent on giving off a creepy-ass vibe than making a sale…

    Weird.

  30. Our local comic/hobby/gaming store is frankly scary — the customers give any girl under 40 the Stare of Doom (especially if she’s wearing pastels or any makeup,)

    I’ve been to a store like that. Actually they give weird looks to any female, young or old. My mother went in there once, looking for something for me, and got about the same looks I did… pretty much “A female? What is THAT doing here?”

    They also sold all their comics already in bags and boards. I

  31. Get Latest issue of Fantom Magazine on iPad, iPhone/Andriod and MAC/PC at Other Edition newsstand.

  32. Get Latest issue of Fantom Magazine on iPad, iPhone/Andriod and MAC/PC at Other Edition newsstand.

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