Trouble with Comics

TWC News with ADD [010511]

* asks “What do women want from comics?" I think they just want them not to suck, which the vast majority of Direct Market superhero comic book fans actually seem to prefer.

* DC is finally collecting Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s Flex Mentallo, and in a deluxe hardcover, at that. Wonder what that will do to the market for back issues of this long-out-of-print and well-regarded mini-series. At Comics Worth Reading, Johanna looks at the long and storied history leading up to this week’s announcement. (I first heard the news from Kevin Pasquino, who has some thoughts on the subject at his blog.)

* Marvel has announced new titles for bigwigs Axel Alonso and Joe Quesada.

* Stan Lee has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Presumably Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko will get theirs next month.

— Alan David Doane

TWC News with ADD [010411]: Unslap My Face

* At Comics Worth Reading, Johanna Draper Carlson has the news that DC is reinstating letters pages in their funnybooks. GOOD. Dropping this seemingly minor tradition in comics is one of the reasons for my own personal disconnect with much of what the industry has to offer, I think. I can’t provide a rational, scientific explanation for this, but I can tell you that reading just about any new #1, corporate superhero comic, artcomic, any kind of comic at all, and finding no text piece at all, no little introductory essay, always seems like a little slap in the face to me as a reader. If DC does it right and uses letters pages as a way to communicate with readers (and not as a vapid promotional tool), I wouldn’t be surprised to see the erosion of readers begin to slow down a little. I’m not saying it will actually increase sales, because I don’t think it will, but I do think it could help build loyalty among whatever readership remains.

* At The Comics Reporter, Tom Spurgeon interviews writer Kelly Sue DeConnick.

* At the Ferret Press blog, Dara Naraghi has restarted his “Guess the Artist" feature, always a fun way to test your comics chops.

* Longtime comics critic Randy Lander posts his top comics and graphic novel lists of 2010.

* Glycon knows I love me some Alan Moore, and I haunted the shelves at FantaCo for something like a year waiting for the 1963 Annual that never was. Big Numbers is another great, incomplete Moore epic, and it seems artist Bill Sienkiewicz is game to wrap it up.

* In design news, CBR has news that Archie is taking their covers in a more retro direction. I’m a little baffled that anyone would think the example given is really retro looking, but maybe they’ll get the hang of it eventually. Not having the UPC code on the front cover is definitely a step in the right direction, if that’s really what I am seeing, there.

* Apparently Kevin Huizenga has more Ganges on the way. Yay.

* Bob Temuka says Grant Morrison’s Batman was the #4 best comic he read in 2010.

* Tony Isabella gets killed with kindness as his history of life in the comics industry continues.

* Uncomics: The best non-comics news of the new year to date. World-class film critic Roger Ebert is coming back to TV, and bringing a whole lotta talented friends with him.

Alan David Doane

Fantagraphics To Launch Complete Barks Ducks Hardcover Series

In what is surely the first big comics news story of the year, and what might be the best one, too, Fantagraphics has announced that it is reprinting the complete Carl Barks Donald Duck comics in a twice-yearly hardcover format. Robot 6 has the news and an interview with Fantagraphics publisher Gary Groth (I spotted the news first at Sean T.’s joint).

I’m not kidding when I say that, after The Complete Peanuts (also published by Fantagraphics), this is the reprint project I’ve been waiting most of my life for. Barks was an absolute master of comic book storytelling, but there has never been a definitive, all-encompassing project you could point to and say “Yeah, get that and you’re all set.” As of today, that has changed. Fantagraphics (an advertiser on this site, I should note) has long prided itself on being the publisher of the world’s greatest cartoonists, and it’s astonishing and gratifying to see them add one of the probably half-dozen best of all time to their stable. The Complete Peanuts, Krazy and Ignatz, Prince Valiant and other Fanta reprint projects have proven that they know how to handle material like this with class and respect, and Gary Groth, Kim Thompson, Eric Reynolds and the rest of the gang at Fantagraphics are to be congratulated and thanked for adding this monumental feather to their cap. Way to go, guys. You just made 2011 a very good year for a lot of comics-loving folks like myself.

Alan David Doane

TWC News with ADD [010211]: Lose The Fear of Slipping

* Tom Spurgeon talks to writer-about-comics (and other things) David Brothers. And in “the best comics-related news I’ve heard all year” department, Spurge is also apparently planning to interview Dirk Deppey.

* Continuing his personal history of his life in comics, Tony Isabella talks about being wooed simultaneously by Marvel and DC during the 1970s.

* Steve Bissette and Dave Sim continue their now epic-length public discussion of creator rights and their personal experiences in the comics industry (part one) (part two) (part three) (part four) (part five) (part six).

Alan David Doane

TWC News with ADD [010111]: How Binary You Look Today

* Tom Spurgeon is continuing to add entries to his regional comics scene list, and if you’re in one of the communities listed (or in one that isn’t but know of multiple comics folk in your area), you should get in touch with Spurge and make sure you’re on the list. One of the things I really dig about being on this, the comics internet is the thrill of seeing my name on this annual list. It’s like, I’m still here, you know?

* At Comics Alliance, Straczynski’s Superman gets the royal ass-kicking it deserves. Yet another overblown and undercooked example of the Fan-Fiction Age of Superhero Comics. What I wouldn’t give to wake up one morning and find out that Bendis, Straczynski, Meltzer, Johns and their ilk were never actually allowed to fuck up superhero comics they way they have, that it was all just a bad dream.

* Roger Green looks back on 2010. Wish I could say I am not more disillusioned with politics than I was a year ago, but 2010 was politically one of the most cynical and harmful years I’ve ever lived through.

* It’s the first day of 2011, a year which appears to my eyes to really look futuristic. Like if I look out the window I should see a flying car in the driveway, not my wife’s beat-up Chevy. As David Byrne noted a couple of years ago, “Nothing has changed but nothing’s the same, and every tomorrow will be yesterday.” Well, after a year that really tested my ability to deal with uncertainty and change, I’m ready for something different. And I hope I get it. And I hope you and yours enjoy a peaceful and prosperous new year.

Alan David Doane

TWC News with ADD [123110]: The Fury of the Uninvolved

* Longtime comic book writer, creator rights advocate and industry observer Tony Isabella explains the methodology he is using in his continuing career autobiography. He’s about to get into contentious territory, so it’s good that he is letting readers know exactly what he is thinking and how he is laying out the facts he is presenting. Having known Tony for years and having some small idea of where he’s going with at least some of this, I can almost guarantee you that a lot of hardcore corporate superhero “fans” who have nothing whatsoever to do with the industry, or the injustices Tony and countless others have suffered at its hands, are about to get righteously outraged at the truth about the North American sooperhero machine. For the rest of us, those interested in the truth about the history of the comics industry, this is absolutely essential reading, if not always pleasant to learn (see Wednesday’s Tony’s Bloggy Thing, in which the tragic story of DC colourist Adrienne Roy is recounted).

* Tom Spurgeon interviews Dee Vee’s Daren White. Dee Vee was a quietly awesome comics anthology, one you’ve probably never heard of, that contained great comics by names like Eddie Campbell, James Kochalka and many others. I came for the Kochalka and stayed for the general comics excellence. I haven’t read this interview yet, but as soon as I get myself settled this morning, this interview is first on my to-do list. Spurgeon’s holiday interviews are always a highlight of this time of the year, but honestly this year seems to have raised the bar to an intimidating degree. Just one great comics discussion after another, day after day. Thanks for making the season bright (and informative and entertaining!), Tom.

* Derik A. Badman runs down his best of 2010 list. Derik’s critical analysis is not quite like any other comics blogger, and his list looks pretty solid to me.

* Steve Bissette and Dave Sim continue their public discussion of creator rights and their personal experiences in the comics industry (part one) (part two) (part three) (part four).

* Short list of links today, the wife has errands for me to run. Happy New Year, and thanks for continuing to read Trouble With Comics. I hope you’ll be back for more in 2011.

Alan David Doane

Retailer Profile: Comic Depot, Saratoga Springs, NY

Comic Depot
opened six years ago along a fairly rural stretch of Route 9N north of Saratoga Springs, NY, and I’ve had a pull list there for nearly as long as they’ve existed. Although my list is small, I rely on the shop for special orders (mostly hardcovers and trades), supplies like bags and boards, and good conversation with the owner, Darren Carrara. Darren recently closed his original location and is focusing his efforts on an expanded site in the Wilton Mall, located in a retail-heavy part of the Saratoga area that is bound to bring him more foot traffic. I took the change as an opportunity to pick his brain about comics retailing in upstate New York and get a feel for his approach to operating the store. — Alan David Doane

Tell me a little bit about how you became interested in comics, and how that led to you opening up your own store.

I have always been a fan of super heroes.  When I was young I remember reading my brothers Conans and Incredible Hulk comics.  But as I grew up I grew away from comics. 

I became reacquainted with comics again in college.  A friend of mine had been an avid collector and our talks about comics sparked my interests again and I found a local shop and began to pick up a few titles.

This same local shop was where I picked up my first large collection of comics.  I was in the store one day and the owner was yelling at someone on the phone about how they screwed up his order, of course this was Diamond.  This was the last straw for him, he asked if I wanted all of the comics in his store?  You bet I did!  He was asking a very reasonable price, so I picked up over 100 long boxes of mostly ’80s and ’90s stuff.  Right place at the right time!

My now wife and then girlfriend, Kristi, and I lugged around this huge collection from Potsdam, NY to Boston, MA.  Then over to Saratoga Springs, NY.  Where it sat for a couple more years till I opened up the Comic Depot!

Darren and Kristi Carrara.Comic Depot’s first location was located just a couple of miles outside Saratoga Springs, New York, a summer destination due to its famous racecourse and lively downtown scene. The shop was on a fairly rural stretch of road, in a strip mall that also housed a convenience store, a pizza shop (where I’ve spent a lot of money feeding my family after picking up my comics over the past few years!) and other assorted shops. Tell me how you picked this site, and what benefits and drawbacks you think it had.

My biggest concern was monetary.  I opened up during a retail and real estate boom; retail space was, in my mind, very expensive.  So we had to find a location that was out of the way, to make it more affordable.  It also had to be short term in case it didn’t work out.  And there were a few other stores in the area and I didn’t want to step on their feet.  So we narrowed in on Greenfield, just a few minutes outside of Saratoga Springs.

The best and worst part of Greenfield was the location, very rural.  You had to drive to the store, there was almost no one who could walk there.  But that was also great, it made us a destination store.  Almost no one wandered in who wasn’t into comics and gaming.   It was perfect for our Yu-Gi-Oh! tournaments, parents could feel comfortable leaving their children for tournaments cause there was nowhere for them to wander off to.

You know my taste in comics is pretty far afield of the typical “comics fan.” I’m not in the store enough to get a sense of how many other customers you have who focus, like me, more on alternative and artcomics than on the weekly superhero fix. Can you thumbnail your clientele for me in terms of what percentage you think are superhero fans versus the rest of what is going on in comics?

I would say 50% are straight up super hero fans, they only get superhero stuff.  And that is the same group who is like to only pick up Marvel or DC comics not both.  Maybe 5% (sorry Alan) are into art comics.  Maybe 10% are collecting everything Stephen King, or stop in to get Amory Wars, or any Rob Zombie book.  So the rest are more of the equal opportunity crowd, they read what is good, like Walking Dead!

How about male/female? What’s the percentage there?

Less than 5% are women, but that number is growing.

What are the best-selling titles you carry?

Amazing Spider-Man, Green Lantern, Walking Dead, lots of X-Titles, Return of Bruce Wayne (mini), Stephen King (Dark Tower, Stand, American Vampire), most of the new Avengers titles.

How do you see the rise of the graphic novel in terms of sales of floppy, single issues? Do you think they both have their place?

They both have a place, the same as digital comics.  They are made for different people who all enjoy different aspects of comics.  Graphic Novels are awesome, you get to read a whole store or story arc in one sitting without waiting six or more months for floppies to come out.  They are also portable and lendable, and less expensive then their floppy counterparts.  But for collectors there is the floppy, the comic book.  Without the floppy the industry ends, in some way or another.   And floppies are also there for those of us too impatient to “wait for the trade.”

What comics are you reading now, and what titles do you consider your all time faves?

Love Walking Dead, love it!  The Sword by the Luna Brothers under the image imprint, awesome, sad it’s over.  Green Lantern, I love Hal Jordan and I loved Sinestro Corps War and Blackest Night.  I do love Deadpool too, although I’m not a big fan of everything currently being published.  I like a lot of the stuff from Radical Publishing too, FVZA and Legends the Enchanted was cool.  Lots of good stuff from Avatar too, both past and present.  And Proof from Image, Mulder as Bigfoot=awesome.

All time faves?  Walking Dead, I have reread this more times than anything else.

You have a pretty big focus on role-playing games, tell me what you offer customers interested in that aspect, and how it’s worked out for you.

I have a bunch of RPG books, but most are vintage.  We do much more with Collectible Card Games, like Magic the Gathering and Yu-Gi-Oh!  One of our main focuses is tournaments for those games.  Also the board game market is starting to boom. 

You’ve been very active in the re-emerging Albany-area convention scene (and other, more distant shows as well). Tell me why you think it’s important to be at comic book shows, and what your approach is when you’re behind the booth at a show.

It is a great way to reach your target audience, the most effective marketing tool is to be in a room filled with local people who want to buy your product.  I think of a comic show as a giant Comic Depot advertisement, that’s the business side.

The fanboy side says: they are a ton of fun, no better way to get your geek on then to spend the day with hundreds of people who share your interests and passions.  Lots of great conversations, lots of awesome merchandise, creators, costumes, and at the end of the day if you made money and had that much fun, then what more could you ask for?

About a year ago you opened a second store in the Wilton Mall, just outside Saratoga Springs but much closer to the main regional highway, I-87 (“The Northway”). A few weeks ago you closed the original Greenfield Center shop and moved your entire operation into a second, larger spot in the mall, across from your former mall location. Tell me how your mall presence has evolved since it began, and what led you to decide to put all your eggs in the mall retailing basket, as it were.

Kristi and I wanted to try out a mall spot just for the holiday season.  Comic books are popular again, comic book movies are all over the place with no end in sight.  So we thought it would be a good idea to open up a second location for the holiday season.  But people seemed to really respond to having a comic shop in the mall.  All day long kids beg to come into the store, “Mom please, please” and the sounds of crying if they don’t come in, and grownups swearing out front, “Holy SH*T, it’s Castle Grayskull.  I had that as a kid!”

This location is great it is conveniently located just off of exit 15 of the Northway, which is closer for almost all of our regulars.  And the foot traffic is great.  Granted malls aren’t exactly what they used to be, but a hell of a lot more people walk through the mall than through Greenfield.  Avengers, Captain America, Green Lantern, Deadpool all coming out in the near future, it doesn’t hurt to be close to a movie theater.  And we even had some “movie premiere parties” at Ruby Tuesdays, they were kind enough to stay open an extra hour or two while eager fans such as myself had a beer or two and a complimentary slider while waiting for Iron Man 2 and Kick-Ass opening night.

What changes are you expecting to make with the new, bigger location?

More stuff!  We are always buying great collections of action figures, comics, RPG, Magic cards, posters and who knows what else.  But lots of cool different merchandise is one of the things people can expect to see.  We are also going to try to be better organized with our comic book back issues, that will be a work in progress for a while I’m sure.  The same great customer service!  Bigger and better tournaments for Magic and Yu-Gi-Oh!  More promotions, including sales and hopefully more “movie premieres.”

Photos provided by Darren Carrara. Previous retailer profiles: Modern Myths, Northampton, MA; Comickaze, San Diego, CA; Earthworld Comics, Albany, NY.

2011: The Year In Comics I Want

Time Magazine’s Techland has a new post up by Douglas Wolk running down a handful of 2011 graphic novels of note…and it’s interesting to me that although only two titles on there will be on my must-buy list (Mister Wonderful by Dan Clowes and Paying For It by Chester Brown), both are really on my must-buy list, like, I’d skip a meal or two to make sure I have them.

In addition to those two, I have already pre-ordered the Captain America Operation Rebirth Premiere Hardcover because I love the original Waid/Garney run on that title and have been waiting for a nice hardcover collection forever, Conan Vol. 10: Iron Shadows On The Moon, which will complete my hardcover Busiek/Truman Conan collection at long last (I am really bummed that Truman is leaving the title), and Gotham Central Vol. 4: Corrigan Deluxe Hardcover, which completes the HC reissues of that beloved and much-missed title.

I’ve also got a standing order for the Alan Moore Swamp Thing hardcover reissues (still kicking myself for ever selling off those original issues), and will be buying the final issue of Neonomicon (Moore and Jacen Burrows are doing amazing work on that title) in 2011, and will continute to buy Criminal, Incognito, and anything else Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips create together. I’ve also been buying Fraction’s Iron Man in hardcover and enjoying it, and I think that actually covers all the comics I expect to buy this year. Not many ongoing titles in there, huh?

What are you looking forward to in 2011?