Mike’s secret origin contained herein.

§ May 2nd, 2016 § Filed under question time § 8 Comments

More answers to your questions:

William opens the gate on

“What were your opinions on the Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe/Who’s Who series?”

I loved ’em. I liked the comic book versions more than the looseleaf/three-ring-binder versions, though the latter made more sense, being more forward-thinking in ease of updating by just swapping out old pages for new. Maybe I just liked the comics better because I didn’t have to sort out the pages and put them into binders in the proper order.

But yes, I enjoyed them quite a bit, particularly when I was younger and not as knowledgeable about all the characters from throughout the respective histories of the two publishers. I even appreciated the different approaches each company took, with Marvel’s encyclopedic entries being far more detailed, even down to exactly how many tons each character with super-strength could lift, whereas DC’s tended to be a little more loose with nailing down character stats and histories.

DC moved away from their “Who’s Who” series, sort of morphing them into the Secret Files special issues that focused on one franchise/character at a time, and I think some annuals had Who’s Who pages included, maybe? Marvel goes back to their “Marvel Universe” format once in a while, though the most recent-ish ones have been character/theme-focused one-shots. One even just came out about a month ago, focusing on Marvel’s post-Secret Wars status.

Nowadays, with reboots and rebirths and restarts and reruns, trying to do the same kind of encyclopedic maxi-series overview of all your characters is a chump’s game, with likely two or three line-wide relaunches occurring during the course of that run. I know that DC has had some mass-market hardcovers in recent years, with big pictures and light, mostly continuity-free descriptions of their characters, and Marvel has a series of volumes going into a little more detail with their own line of heroes and villains.

The best solution to keeping any kind of listing like this current would be putting it online, which Marvel and DC already kind of do, and of course Wikipedia does do. That would certainly allow the space necessary to explain, say, the differences with post-Flashpoint, New 52 versions of characters that you’d need to do in 6-point type on a printed page to get everything squeezed in there.

But it just wouldn’t be the same as getting your copy of The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe and spending forever plowing through the walls of text inside. You certainly got your money’s worth. Plus, there were those great diagrams of vehicles and weaponry by Eliot R. Brown, which were fascinating to look at and almost made you believe, for just a moment, “well, yeah, that’s exactly how Doctor Octopus’s arms would work.”

By the way, in 1982/early ’83 I was trying to track down one of the early issues of Marvel Universe that might have still been on newsstand racks in the area, when I ran into a schoolmate of mine. After learning what I was up to, he said “hey, why not try Ralph’s Comic Corner up in Ventura, they probably have it.” I’d not known about the shop ’til that moment, and in a way that little encounter with a school buddy may have put me on course to being where I am now…trying to figure out how many copies of Aquaman: Rebirth #1 to order for my shop.

I’m sorry if I didn’t mention your favorite comic.

§ April 29th, 2016 § Filed under question time § 8 Comments

Steve hooks me in with

“Is there a comics publisher that you really like as a retailer? One that goes above and beyond to address retailer concerns, or goes out of its way to accommodate special requests, or one that just “gets” the retailing side of things? You always hear about the companies that go the extra distance for creators… is there one like that for retailers?”

At the previous job, one publisher that impressed me quite a bit was Zenescope, home of the Grimm Fairy Tales line of funnybooks. Plenty of emails and phone calls and outreach and backlist sales and doing whatever they can to help retailers stock the shelves with their books, which I appreciated. Now, at the new store, the Zenescope titles haven’t quite gained too much traction yet…they have some customers here, but I’m not yet at the point where I need that level of attention. Maybe soon!

Fantagraphics is another that comes to mind, particularly just recently when they came to my rescue on something that…well, let’s just say they saved my bacon. I’ll go into detail about what happened in a week or two (and explain just why I don’t want to do so right this moment) but I just wanted to make sure I mentioned Fantagraphics in this context of “swell comic book companies that help retailers.”

Boom! is another company that was willing to work with me when I was attempting to get my paws on, I believe, their Amory Wars hardcover, I think, that I couldn’t get through the usual channels. And…well, there are plenty more, sending emails and contacting us over Twitter and basically just making themselves available. Most smaller companies want to go out of their way to be helpful to retailers, to help them carry their product. It’s a small industry with not a lot of money to go around, and it’s very easy to get lost in the shuffle, and outreach is vital to keep their businesses afloat.

• • •

William fires away with

“Do those Dover reprints of comics from the 80s and 90s move at all for you?”

To be honest, I’ve not carried a lot of them, since I’m still a small-ish shop with a limited budget, and sometimes I have to pick and choose between something that’s new and something that’s reprinting an obscurish item from decades ago. Not that I don’t order archival projects, I do get plenty, but I’m not quite at the point where I can carry as much as I’d like. I did make sure to get The Bozz Chronicles, for example, and I talked about their edition of Puma Blues previously. And yes, the ones I’ve ordered do move for me, and I always keep an eye on their section in the ol’ Previews for any more goodies I’d want to carry. I can’t carry everything, but I at least try to carry some things.

• • •

Dan duns

“So, are there any good comic books?”

No.

…Well, okay, maybe there are a couple. I like the 1950s Popeye comic book reprints IDW is putting out. Daredevil is still really good, what with an actual lawyer writing it an’ all. Justice League 3001 is Giffen/DeMatteis redoing their League from a couple of decades back as a futuristic sci-fi superbook, and it’s pretty great and nearly unpredictable. Scooby-Doo Team-Up is a hoot. Love and Rockets continues to be good readin’. The Hellboy family of comics are solid, and the Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. series is a welcome and accessible addition to the franchise. I like all the Star Wars comics. There’s Saga, and there’s Bitch Planet, and Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, and Kaijumax, and Heartthrob, and of course, Dark Knight III. There’s plenty of good stuff out there…just look around!

But of course in real life that Swamp Thing comic would be a bestseller.

§ April 27th, 2016 § Filed under market crash, question time, retailing § 5 Comments

Brandon submits

“You probably covered this, but can you think of a time in early Mike’s comics retail career where something came up that completely junked how you thought comics should be ordered?”

I think I follow what you’re saying here, but let me give a couple of different answers to you.

One of the first lessons I learned from my old boss Ralph is “order with your head, not your heart.” And before anyone pipes up, that’s not a 100%, completely binary thing, by any means…yes, sometimes you order with your heart, because there are comics and characters and creators you like and want to support and of course you think investing your time and money in them is a good idea. I mean, we’re not machines, we all have our preferences and that informs our decisions. The trick is not to be stupid about it.

If you’re supporting a comic you like, which, oh, let’s say it’s Our Swamp Thing at War, and you’re ordering piles and piles of it, thinking “well, if I love it, surely all of my customers will love it, too!” Then, after a few months of not selling any, you’re still thinking “it’s gonna catch on, I just know it” — well, sooner or later your head is going to have to pull rank on your heart and cut those orders down to what you’re really selling versus what you think they should sell.

This is probably a “no-duh” kind of realization…I’m pretty sure I didn’t go into this thinking that it was all “la de dah, just get whatever” and throwing down whatever numbers you wanted on the order form. But I think I was surprised by the amount of number-crunching involved in actually ordering comics, with looking back at the sales histories of individual titles, at seasonal changes, at what creator or character’s presence in a particular issue might do its sales, etc. And sometimes this decision-making is crazily exact…I have, well, not agonized exactly, that’s too strong a word, but I’ve definitely waffled over the difference of a single unit on a comic for a longer period of time than I really should have. Like, maybe 20 copies feels like it’s too many, but dropping it down to 19 just doesn’t seem like that would be enough. No, I’m not exaggerating.

So maybe that’s the actual response in this first part of this answer: that I wasn’t aware at first of just how much work actually went into placing orders. I’m not sure what I pictured, but it was probably a lot more casual than the advanced calculus I’ve since ended up doing to figure out how many Marvel variant covers I can order.

The second part of my answer is more involved with the overall health of the marketplace. I am sure I’ve mentioned once or thrice over the years about the sudden seachange I experienced during the boom ‘n’ crash period of the early 1990s, when the latest Diamond Previews arrived, cover-featuring Dark Horse’s new superhero imprint “Comics’ Greatest World.” My memory is a little fuzzy on the details, but my recollection is that there were either multiple superhero universes launching in that same Previews, or that I realized just how many superhero universes were being thrust upon the stands. I do remember thinking “where are the customers to support all these new ‘universes’ going to come from?” and, perhaps on a more selfish level, “how are we going to have room on our shelves for all these different comics?” Now, as it turned out, the marketplace eventually took care of this problem for us, but that was still a bit of an alarming realization.

Now keep in mind the big comics boom was still in progress of becoming a crash around this period, so we had been more-or-less accustomed to (or perhaps spoiled by) the idea that there were plenty of folks in the marketplace ready to support nearly anything that was published. There was of course no shortage of clues that the market was sick…the prevalence of investors, the proliferation of gimmicks and enhanced covers…but for some reason, seeing that particular issue of Previews, with the promise of More of the Same Kind of Stuff Coming on Top of the Stuff That’s Already Here, was the literal final straw. The sorta vague feeling that things weren’t healthy, the one you could ignore because hey, look at all this money we’re making, now came into tighter focus. To try to bring it back to your original question, Brandon, is that this was the transition from “order lots because comics will always sell great forever” to “order what’s going to sell now, and be more picky about what you want left over for backstock.” Not the catchiest way of putting it, I suppose, but true just the same.

• • •

Oh, hey, over at Trouble with Comics, to make up for all of us hatin’ on Jack Kirby in our younger years, we pick out our favorite obscure Kirby works.

I kind of want “Watchmen Babies” from The Simpsons to be canon, too.

§ April 25th, 2016 § Filed under question time § 9 Comments

More As to your Qs:

Rich monkeys around with

“I’ve recently been doing some Watchmen research for an upcoming book. Other than the original Alan Moore series, the Zack Snyder film, Before Watchmen, the three RPG books, the New Frontiersman website, the viral videos made to promote the film, the mock New Frontiersman and Metro newspaper promos, the three video games, and the two Who’s Who in DC issues, do you know of any other in-universe Watchmen lore? I’m trying to be as all-encompassing as possible. Thanks!”

Well, that seems pretty comprehensive to me. I looked at my Watchmen Heroclix set in case there was any in-universe flavor text-type stuff, and no dice there. There’s also this card-game thing that I don’t own, but maybe there’s some supporting text there, too, maybe? I’m not sure. (Frankly, I didn’t know there were three video games, so I’m not as up on this stuff as I’d thought.)

A while back I did a post about this ad for what seems to have been an unauthorized RPG game and/or story. Like I said there, no idea if this was ever released in any form…and it wasn’t an official thingie anyway, but might make an interesting aside in your project.

Another interesting aside may be this “crossover” in The Question #17, which, again, isn’t technically “in-universe” but weirdly neat nonetheless.

The only other official addition to the in-universe narrative were those promo posters, which offered brief glimpses into the lives of various characters from the series. They were just single shots, and it wasn’t so much narrative as “here’s what THIS character is like!” but they were pretty cool just the same. They’ve been reprinted in the deluxe editions of the graphic novel, so those aren’t particularly obscure but easy to overlook.

Of course, there was also this, which is totally official in my personal head-canon.

• • •

Paul polls me with

“In this vital election year, would you vote for a Lex Luthor-Pete Ross ticket?”

This year especially, I’d almost prefer the Lex ‘n’ Pete power pair. VOTE LUTHOR: MAKE AMERICA MANIACALLY VILLAINOUS AGAIN

• • •

Mike wonders

Do you think the super-hero genre can continue to evolve? We’ve gone from good vs. evil to soap-opera to deconstruction/ post-modernism to reconstruction and everywhere in-between. We’ve been through parody, stories without any traditional costumes or physical action, super-heroes as metaphors, distillation to the lowest common denominator, and tributes to every previous era. Has the idea well run dry?

Ooh, I never want to say the well has run dry on any creative endeavor. You never know what the future will bring, in terms of new ideas brought by new creators to apply to the superhero field. Yes, there will always be some percentage of titles just running in place, or just filling a space on a rack or maintaining a trademark, but I think there’s still a good chance of a fresh perspective on that old genre. What the next permutation will be exactly, I have no idea, but I’m sure folks working on superhero comics in the 1940s could never have predicted what would come decades later.

• • •

Dan battles me with

“The main thing Ive been collecting the last year or so is back issues of Warren mags; Eerie, Creepy, Vampi, etc. I would love to hear your take on these. Did you read these when they were on the newsstand, how often do back issues come into the store, and any other thoughts or comments. Thanks!”

I never personally collected many of these, no, though I may have read a few too many issues of 1984/1994 when I was far too young to have those in my possession. I did however read reprints of Berni(e) Wrightson’s work from those early Creepy/Eerie mags, especially in that Pacific/Eclipse-published Berni Wrightson: Master of the Macabre mini-series. Beyond that, I never really got into them, even though it seems like, given the talent involved, they would have been right up my alley. Probably just one of those “well, I can’t collect everything” kind of deals.

At the new store (that would be Sterling Silver Comics, located in Camarillo, CA) I actually haven’t had too many of the Warren comics mags come through, though I did acquire a huge pile of Famous Monsters of Filmland which sold out in short order. The previous place of employment, on the other hand, had many Warren mags passing through over the decades, but then that shop’s been around longer and has had more opportunity to have those items show up. Ask me again in about 30 years and we’ll see if I’ve seen more Warren magazines in that time!

I should note that, after processing tons of these mags for sale over the years at that old job, I have gained a strong love for their cover blurbs.

I didn’t even mention the comic boards I ran during my old BBS days.

§ April 22nd, 2016 § Filed under question time, retailing § No Comments

MrJM jams this question right in here

“T for D: Comics retailing and social media, i.e. In what ways have social media affected comics retailing? In what ways should social media affect comics retailing?”

I remember early in the days of what we once called “The Comics Blogosphere” there was a particular indie title that all of us comics bloggers were enamored of, and we would talk up and plug all the time, and that went on for months and months and ultimately the publisher said “yeah, it was big on blogs but still didn’t sell worth a damn.”

Things are a little different now, in that social media is only a pulling-the-phone-out-of-the-bag-or-pocket away for people, so there is that portion of the customer base now that is more immediately informed (or misinformed, depending on what sites they’re looking at). That requires me keeping more on my toes regarding the latest developments in the industry, or at least knowing where to go to look up anything that turns out to be news to me.

As a retailer, social media does allow me new, direct venues to contact my customer base. At the previous place of employment, we would mail out newsletters through USPS to everyone in the customer database. Now, with Facebook and Twitter and an embedded blog on the store’s webpage and many, many other communication options, I can have more immediate and consistent contact with customers. I mean, sure, none of this is particularly news to anyone, but I do marvel at the slow creep of additional online ways to maintain these relationships. Email access and a website to advertise the shop/plug our wares really were game-changers, in that I had no idea how I managed to do anything without having those particular tools at my disposal. The other goodies, like your “Twitters” and your “Instagrams” and “Facebooks” and such have gone from interesting gimmicks to near-essential tools to connecting to your clientele.

Now, MrJM, your question is how social media specifically affected retailing, and how it should affect it. Well, what it does and what it should do is what I mentioned already – facilitate communication between the shop and the customer. More communication = more positive relationships = more awareness of wants and needs of the clientele = more business. I mean, ideally, anyway. You always hear about someone representing a business saying ridiculously awful things online, and the comics business ain’t no exception, but so long as you’re not a dummy about it, social media is great.

Yes, I put my nickel down on the idea that the internet is useful. I’m cutting edge that way.

Now, whether or not the situation I described at the beginning would have been different today, with the expanded role of online discourse in our industry…I don’t know. I’d like to think so, with more avenues of information available to increasing numbers of potential readers, but information overload is also a problem. Yes, it may be easier to push information about your new book in front of more eyes, but it’s easier for everyone else, too, and “extra exposure” can quickly become “lost in the shuffle.” So technology has made it easier to make things not as easy, and doesn’t that just figure.

Sign o’ the times.

§ April 21st, 2016 § Filed under obituary § No Comments

signotimes

No, really, we like this creator now, honest.

§ April 21st, 2016 § Filed under pal plugging, question time, self-promotion § 4 Comments

First off, let me point you in the direction of pal Andrew’s latest endeavor, a personal retelling of his frontline battles that could only be called “Me and the Terrible ’90s.” That link will take you to Parts One and Two of the series, and will also show you the immediate precursors looking at awful merch ads from Wizard (as opposed to all those great merch ads). Anyway, it’s more great writing from Andrew, and that’s always worth celebrating.

Now, if I may plug myself (“…In public!? GASP”), here is the most recent Question Time over at Trouble with Comics, in which we discuss those creator(s) that we did not like at first blush, but gained an appreciation for as time went by. Please note my use of the parenthetical pluralization on “creator(s)” is mostly theoretical, as each and every one of us somehow managed to pick the same person. And it’s the worst person we could have picked for this. We are all horrible people. At least I can manage to lightly salve my soul with the knowledge that I once got to shake this person’s hand and thank him for all his great work. I don’t know what all those other guys at TWC are gonna do. (Also, the last link in my answer is supposed to go to this…not sure how that other link got published, since the correct link is in my final draft of the response, but we’ll get it fixed!)

Now let me address a couple of questions from my latest “ask me stuff” post:

Thom H. ashks:

“Any thoughts on the Ellis/Shalvie/Bellaire book Injection? I think it’s the best book on the stands right now — not to mention the best thing Ellis has written in years — and I don’t see much written about it on the Internet. How does is sell for you? Have you read it? How does it compare to other Ellis work in your opinion? etc. etc.”

I haven’t had a chance to read it…the dread irony of owning a comic shop is less time to read comics, I’m sure I’ve said before. But, it’s selling reasonably well for an Image book…not Walking Dead heights, no, but certainly better than some of their D.O.A. titles. It has a consistent following, and the occasional latecomers who catch up on the back issues. It’s also one of the few comics that customers regularly point out to me as one of their favorites, so…you know, that’s encouraging. As far as how it compares to other Ellis titles…well, like I said, I haven’t read it, but that customers are regularly talking about it makes it probably one of his most well-received books since Moon Knight.

• • •

Jay from Tennessee graces my land with

“Of course in your opinion, what is the best series of Shadow comics in the past 40 years and why?”

Well, that would be the Andrew Helfer/Kyle Baker run during the late 1980s…actually, the whole 19-issue run was good, with Bill Sienkiewicz on the first story arc, and the four-issue mini-series that kicked this iteration of the Shadow off, by Howard Chaykin, is a hoot as well. But Helfer/Baker’s particular brand of irreverence and black humor really did it for me, and you were never quite sure just what horrible thing was going to happen next. That they managed to (um, SPOILER ALERT, I guess) kill the Shadow and keep him dead for several issues was a remarkably entertaining feat, and the cover to the final issue is a thing of beauty.

I’ve read and liked other Shadow comics since, but they all seem so staid and mannered compared to the freewheeling craziness of Helfer/Baker’s run. I did write a bit about this series over a decade ago, so some of the links in that old post are going to be broken. Sorry about that! But this was a fine series, and now it’s been 27 years since I started waiting for that one-shot to wrap it all up!

Recommend this comic to a buddy.

§ April 19th, 2016 § Filed under question time § 7 Comments

Aaaaand I’m back.

Okay, the way I’m handling questions this time around is going to be a little different. I am going to go through your Qs probably two or three at a time, instead of cramming a million of them into one long post. That means things are going to get stretched out a bit, probably interspersed with posts on other topics. I will answer all those questions eventually, but by doing them only one or two at a time, that will give me a chance to give a little longer and/or thoughtful response. Thanks for participating, pals, and if still have a question or topic you want to throw onto the pile, feel free!

• • •

Smicha1 smacks me with:

“Any thoughts on the Wasteland comic that DC published in the late 80s? I always loved that book and am still surprised that it hasn’t come out in trade or omnibus form from Vertigo.”

I thought that was a great comic, and one that I should probably reread at one point (being one of the series that stayed in my collection and not absorbed into the stock of my shop). For those of you unfamiliar with the title, it was an anthology series with stories written by John Ostrander and the late Del Close, and illustrated by a rotating team of artists (at first George Freeman, William Messner-Loebs, Don Simpson, and David Lloyd, with other artists coming on later in the run). The “rotating” bit is that three of the artists would each illustrate one of the three stories, while the fourth would provide the cover, and then the next issue the cover artist would draw one of the stories while someone else would move to cover duties for the month, and so on.

Eventually there was a bit of a foul-up in the production of the series, as issue #5 was accidentially given the cover for issue #6 (not just the cover image, but the issue number as well), which resulted in DC not only reprinting #5 with the correct cover right away, but putting a “blank” cover on #6 the following month (numbered on the cover as “the real No. 6”) since presumably everyone already received the cover art for that issue on the misprinted #5. Yes, it was a little confusing.

Here’s the Real No. 6 in question…it’s almost like a prototype of the modern “sketch cover” variants:

wastelandthereal6

The high point of the series, for me at least, was the recurring adventures of The Dead Detective, by Ostrander and Messner-Loebs, which was pretty much what it sounds like: the immobile corpse of a detective, who is still conscious and thinking, providing a running commentary on (or a continuing stream of bafflement about) the various oddball situations that occur to him. But there was a lot to enjoy in the series…not everything hit, which is to be expected with pretty much any anthology comic outside of E.C., but overall I thought it was a good run of interesting stories.

The graphic nature of some stories inspired some debate about content that went on in its letters pages and in the trade papers, which is a fine and healthy thing, I think. There was a bit of a sour note in the last issue editorial farewell, as a particularly insulting thing was written about a creator I happen to like. That was a shame.

As to why it hasn’t been collected…I don’t know. According to the copyright information in each issue, the material is owned by DC Comics, but perhaps there was some behind-the-scenes ownership/contract stuff to which I am not privy and prevents reissue. Or maybe DC just doesn’t feel like reprinting it. In any case, these should be relatively cheap if you can find them…just make sure you’re getting the right #6.

• • •

Bruce Baugh breaks in with the following:

“Mike, talk to us about what your dream comics format would be for ongoing series. Any quality of pages, prices, etc.. What’s the coolest format you can think of that would probably sell enough to be worth it?”

Actually, something similar to Wasteland‘s format would be idea to me. A 32-page comic, with 27 pages of comics, a couple pages of editorial content, printed on Baxter paper, with cover stock thick enough to actually feel like a cover to a comic/magazine (and not slowly curling on the stands, like a couple of recent Dark Horse books and the new Moon Knight, for example). Not too long, to keep the price down (three bucks!), but long enough to allow for a lead story and a back-up, if desired. Only a few ads.

Okay, realistically, that’s not economically feasible nowadays, probably, but that’s the format I like the most. You know, the 1980s Baxter-era Titans and Legion of Super-Heroes format, only with coloring that doesn’t stab you in the eyes. Nice paper, lots of pages of comic, so on. I liked those.

No need to agree with me.

§ April 15th, 2016 § Filed under pal plugging, question time § 2 Comments

Congrats to pal Nat for winning an award for his Snoopy Treasures book!

And here’s a reminder that I’m still taking your questions and suggestions for the blog right here. I may start responding on Tuesday, due to my needing to get an early start for something on Monday and possibly won’t want to stay up late Sunday working on the site. …I’m the worst blogger.

Containing no links to the Dr. Strange trailer, but I bet you can find it on YouTube.

§ April 13th, 2016 § Filed under pal plugging, self-promotion § 3 Comments

1. I’m still taking questions and/or topics for discussion re: this crazy comics business we’re all interested in, if you’d like to contribute any. I’ll probably start going through them this coming Monday.

2. The latest Question Time over at Trouble with Comics involves creators we once liked but not so much anymore, and my response is more about my changing attitudes and perceptions rather than a reflection on the creator in question. It’s not you, pal, it’s me.

3. Hey, pal Dave resurfaced at his currently-retired site to present a comic he wrote.

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