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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!
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.
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.
Sorry, haven’t had a whole lot of blogging time this week, but I did contribute an extensive thingy to the latest Question Time over at Trouble with Comics in which we were asked our opinions on variant covers for comic books. And opinions we did have, let me tell you, friend.
Pal Andrew wrapped up his month-long visit with the Legion of Super-Heroes’ Shrinking Violet, and had a few smart words to say about both her and the franchise from which she was born.
Bully, the Little Bull Stuffed with Atomic Breath, presents one of the greatest confrontations ever unleashed within the pages of a Marvel comic.
And in case you missed it…the End of Civilization returned to the virtual pages of Progressive Ruin earlier this week. Sorry, I didn’t realize I’d let the feature rest for so long. I can’t promise it every month, but I won’t let half a year go by again without one.
So the other day a lad and his grandmother came to the shop to look around, and everything was going well until the grandmother took a close look at the new comics rack and exclaimed “comics cost $3.99!?” It was a bit of sticker shock for her, as that was quite a bit higher than the new comic prices she remembered from her youth.
I mentioned this on the Twitters, and as the discussion continued from my initial post there, I realized there were two different issues that were perhaps being conflated. The first issue, and the one of greatest interest to those of us who regularly consume this particular artform, is that of perceived value. “Did I get my $3.99’s worth out of this comic?” “Did I just blow through this $3.99 comic filled with splash pages and no dialogue in two minutes?” “Did I just spend 20 minutes slowly absorbing the intricacies of dialogue and appreciating the beautifully-rendered art?” All questions we’re familiar with, I’m sure. And it is an important concern, that everyone from the reader to the publisher to the retailer needs to worry about: is the product worth it?
There’s no simple answer, of course. Maybe you don’t like the all-splash page comic with no dialogue, but maybe someone else loves the art in that comic and is thrilled to have huge images and no text to get in the way. Maybe I like dialogue-heavy comics that take me a while to read, and maybe someone else thinks if they wanted to read a prose novel, they’d have bought one. Everyone decides for him-or-herself if the price they’re paying for a comic is worth the value they get from it.
Anyway, we’re all comics people, we know all that. But the other issue I was thinking about, based on that grandmother’s response to seeing the price, was the very fact that the price itself is a barrier to new readers, independent of whether or not the contents could deliver on the cost of admission.
This isn’t a very deep topic, admittedly. “High price drives away customers” – no dur-hay, right? But it reminded me of when I wrote about DC’s “The New 52!” slug that they had on their covers for the last few years. For those “in the know,” it told us “hey, this is part of DC’s newly-rebooted continuity!” For anyone else who hasn’t read comics, it told them “you have no idea what this means, so clearly this isn’t for you.” Even though the New 52 initiative is no longer marketed as such (ending when it did just as reader Ray predicted), the phrase still exists on back issues and on the trade paperbacks and I still hear “hey, what does this mean” from folks new to the industry all the time.
Basically, it’s something on the cover that warns people not already reading comics “this is not for you.” And maybe the higher price points on the regular monthly series (currently averaging $3.99, with Marvel slowly getting us used to $4.99) are yet another warning. Okay, maybe it’s mostly a warning to people who remember when comics were ten or fifteen or thirty-five cents and have somehow wandered back into a comic shop only to discover 1) wait, they’re still making Howard the Duck? and 2) it’s $4.99 a throw? And I don’t think four bucks is too bad a price point for what you’re getting…that’s like a pack of Magic: The Gathering cards (I think…it’s been a while since I’ve had to sell any), or…fancy coffee, I guess? But it’s not “toss the guy a coin and not think about it” pricing…it’s not a significant amount of money, but it’s not nothing, either. And that’s just one more barrier to someone new to comics trying to decide if he or she really wants to take the plunge.
Again, this is hardly a new observation, but it brought me to think once again about what the breaking point is going to be. I’m sure those of us who were around a couple of decades back buying comics for, what, $1.25 or $1.50 each, would have laughed in your face if told we’d be buying essentially the same comics for $3.99. But here we are. And so far any comics that have been $4.99 or higher have had higher page counts or nicer production or some other aspect that improved the perceived value of the item. But then, so did $3.99 comics at one point. And so did $1.99 comics.
My thought was that eventually periodical comics would have to evolve into thick anthology magazines, front-loaded with ads to keep costs down, but attracting advertisers is a problem now for comics, too. So who knows where it goes from here…moving to a trade paperback-only model? Everyone moves to digital comics? Your pal Mike shutters his store and has to find a real job? I don’t know…it’s a thing I have to worry about, and it’s a situation that’s coming whether anyone likes it or not.
Boy, that’s cheery stuff, right? Anyway, this isn’t a “comics industry is doomed” thing, since people have been saying for decades that the business’s death is “five years away.” I’m just curious about what’s coming next, and hopefully whatever’s coming will appeal to new customers rather than try to block them out.
• • •
I wanted to post a brief note regarding pal Dave’s decision to end his blog
, at least for the time being. He’s one of my favorite writers…smart, funny, and very
insightful, with plenty of interesting things to say on a wide variety of topics which as I type it sounds like a remarkably generic thing to say about someone, but it’s really true in his case. I’ve never been much of a gamer, but his posts on the various games he’s played were just as fun to read as his occasional comics or movie post, which fell more within my specific wheelhouse.
I’m sorry he’s taking down his virtual shingle, but I’m glad he shared as much with us as he did. Plus, I still get to bother him on Twitter, at least until he blocks or mutes me. Thanks for all the good work, Dave, and hopefully we’ll see more from you in the future.
…but I just couldn’t do it. I got, I don’t know, about 40 minutes or so in, over a couple of attempts on consecutive nights, and decided it just wasn’t worth the effort. It did have 1) Helen Slater as a charming Supergirl despite everything, 2) Peter Cook being as Peter Cook-ish as the movie would allow, and 3) Matt Frewer in a brief role as a street creep, but that just wasn’t enough, I’m afraid. There is a fine line between the filmmakers allowing the viewer to fill in narrative gaps and filmmakers just not giving half a darn, and I’m afraid Supergirl veered more closely to the latter. It’s the kind of thing that brought us “Phantom Zone Villain Levitation-Ray Finger” and “Restore-Great-Wall-of-China-Vision” in the Superman films, the “who cares/it’s good enough” method of storytelling that tells anyone even vaguely familiar with the source material that they, and said source material, don’t matter enough to be treated with even the slightest respect.
I tried to be more charitable…even the venerated Superman: The Movie isn’t without its flaws, but even trying to view Supergirl as a near-dreamlike fairy tale, which one suspects was at least partially the intent, it’s just not very well done. Or it’s just that what passed for cutting-edge superhero movie-making in the mid-1980s just hasn’t aged well into the early 21st century. Or maybe I just plain wasn’t in the mood for it. Whatever the reason, it was more than I could bear, so back in the ol’ Netflix envelope it goes. Sorry, #1 Fan of the 1984 Supergirl Movie That I’m Sure I’ll Be Hearing from Soon.
• • •
In other news: I’ve been trying to come up with a follow-up to my last post, in particular the response from blogging brother Tim, but I’ve been having a hard time of it. It’s a complicated issue, regarding how best to return an old series to the stands after years of absence, and there’s no good answer. You can just ignore what came before and start afresh (like Valiant), you can reissue everything previously published prior to starting new material, either in individual issues (Miracleman) or in book collections (Beanworld).
Or, in the case of the Badger, which, as I’d said before, is pretty continuity-light, just bring him back in new adventures and reintroduce old characters/situations as needed. Old fans will be satisfied, and new fans won’t feel like they’re out of their depth with missed backstory.
I don’t know…it’s tough, and anyone, from new creators to long-established ones, trying to claim a little space on retailers’ shelves among the multiple Batman and Deadpool comics has my sympathies and understanding. It’s a small, tough marketplace and you’ve got your work cut out for you.
• • •
In other, other news, pal Andrew will be featuring Shrinking Violet from the Legion of Super-Heroes all this month. Why, you may ask? Why not, I reply.
Sorry for missing Monday again…I’m still recovering from a cold, and decided “turning in early” was the better strategy for Sunday evening than “generating website content.” Write in for your refunds, etc. etc. …But seriously, while I’ve been at the reduced schedule on this site for a few years now, I always like to have a Monday post, but sometimes it just can’t happen. Thanks for your patience!
In other news:
- Last week I was interviewed about the 1977 Star Wars Early Bird Kit for an article that appeared yesterday over at Yahoo! Movies. For those of you who don’t know what the Early Bird Kit was, it’s explained thoroughly in the article, but in short, it was a gussied-up coupon for the first batch of Star Wars action figures that parents could put under the Christmas tree since Kenner wasn’t going to have the figures themselves ready for the first gift-giving season after the film’s release.
As the article states, I was the recipient of one of these kits, and while I’m sure modern kids would think that would have been a completely ridiculous thing to receive in place of actual toys, I assure you, I was quite thrilled with it. I filled out that coupon and mailed it in right away, and probably not so patiently awaited the several months for the toys themselves to arrive.
I mentioned this in my interview, but it didn’t make the article, so I’ll go ahead and share it here: the batch of figures was supposed to be Luke, Leia, R2-D2 and Chewbacca. However, when my package of Early Bird figures finally arrived, there was sadly an R2-shaped hole in my particular assortment. The plucky little astromech was accidentally left out of my box!
Well, 8-or-possibly-at-this-point-9-year-old me wasn’t thrilled at this turn of events, as you might imagine. At my parents’ encouragement, I wrote a letter to Kenner apprising them of the situation, requesting a replacement R2 unit. I even drew a picture (or, ahem, three or four) of R2-D2 in my letter, just to make sure the folks at the toy company knew exactly which Star Wars figure I was specifically referencing.
Eventually, Kenner did send me a replacement R2-D2. It took a while, or at least what passes in the head of a 8-or-9-year-old as “a while,” and while I was waiting, during a Star Wars-oriented visit to the local toy emporium, I had gone ahead and purchased another R2, among several other figures. Which of course meant that when that replacement from Kenner arrived, I had R2-D2 and R2-D2 starring in The ‘Droid Trap or whatever sort of Star Wars toy playing I was doing at the time.
Sadly, several decades later many of my Star Wars toys are long gone, including both R2s. I do have a few figures left, including that original old Early Bird Chewbacca, and I currently have my original one of these sitting on top of my desk even as I type this, staring at me with its single eye.
Sigh. Not that I need more stuff in my house, but I do still wish I had all my Star Wars figures. I have one of those books that has nice big color photos of every figure from the line, but it’s not quite the same.
- This week’s Question Time over at Trouble with Comics was “name a favorite book by a creator new to comics this decade.” There are several good answers over there, including one or a dozen I wish I’d thought of, but I think my response isn’t a bad one.
- Bully the Little Computerless Bull now has a new magic counting box in his barn so he’s back to busily tapping his little hooves on his keyboard generating content just for you! However, pal Andrew of Armagideon-Time fame stepped in for a number of guest-posts while Bully was down-and-out, and did his usual excellent job filling in with some great entries celebrating the fun of comics.
So in case you missed it, the twelfth anniversary of this here website was this past Saturday, so be sure to go back and check out my crazy epic-length post. Thanks to everyone for your well-wishes, and let’s hope I can get a few more years out of this thing before I am forced to enter the Old Bloggers Home.
Particularly kind was this write-up from Twitter pal and fellow blogger Ryan. It’s nice when people remember that I’ve been at this…not blogging, but in the comics retail business in general…for a long, long time. I’ve seen some things, maaaaaan. And with any luck I’ll be around to share even more of those things that I’ve seen, even if I have to wait ’til certain involved parties 1) pass away or 2) are jailed. …But enough about pal Ian!
Really, though…thanks for reading and sticking with me all this time.
• • •
I had a small collection of old comics come into my shop the other day…well, not on their own, someone was carrying them…and I ended up purchasing about a dozen copies of 1970s Captain America, back when it had been retooled as Captain America and the Falcon. That reminded me an old feature on this site, which I last did in…2006? Good gravy, that long ago? But it was “And Now A Moment with Cap and the Falcon,” which always made me laugh if not anyone else. So, here we go, making its triumphant return to the virtual pages of Progressive Ruin after nearly ten years away:
And now a moment with…Cap and the Falcon:
• • •
I hope those two crazy mixed-up kids can learn to get along.
What’s THIS? Disaster strikes!? Bully, The Bull Who Is Stuffed, without a computer
? But wait! Who’s this
!? Pal Andrew
, filling in with a swell post
just in the nick of time! The day is saved!
image from Captain America #191 (November 1975) by Tony Isabella, Bill Mantlo, Frank Robbins and D. Bruce Berry
Say what you will about Dark Knight III, and boy howdy you sure have, but it certainly brought customers into the store specifically for just that book. Now the real trick is “will they come back?” and of course I’ve had a customer or two ask the very astute question of whether or not this series will be released in a timely fashion (if it is, this would be the first Frank Miller-involved Dark Knight series in history to do so). And of course, there’s been some curiosity from parts hither and yon as to how involved Miller actually was in the series.
Having read it, I personally feel that this is definitely an interesting Brian Azzarello-written take on Miller’s Dark Knight-iverse, if not as quirky and strange as the previous installments. It lacks the wild shifts of tone in a lot of Miller’s work, from straight-up satire to dead seriousness, which is probably fine since trying to duplicate that particular balance is a chump’s game. I’m certainly looking forward to seeing more, but I’m not feeling the Dark Knight-ishness of it quite yet. The inserted mini-comic with the Atom comes close.
As a retailer, I gotta complain about that cover, though. I’m trying to convince people they’re getting unique “FINGERPRINT SMUDGE” variants, but I think they’re beginning to catch on.
In other news:
- Speaking of Miller’s Dark Knight, Alan over at Trouble with Comics has a somewhat more critical look at the Dark Knight Saga than I tend towards, but still an entertaining read nonetheless. All Star Batman is a saint, I tell you…a saint!
- A wee bit of Star Wars comics history for you…here’s an old SW toy ad drawn by Rick Veitch.
- Can you believe that I’ve had to explain to people just who the Star Wars rabbit is? Oh, how very soon they forget that minor character from a handful of Star Wars comics published nearly four decades ago.
- First, read this Nobody’s Favorites post by pal Andrew about a certain superhero named Static…no, not the Static people like, the other one. Pay close attention to the lettering in those panels, and then look at this Twitter post I made a while back and tell me I’m wrong.
Perhaps you’ve seen me make brief mention of my comic book store Sterling Silver Comics on this site once or twice over the last several months. Well, today is the one year anniversary of having opened that shop to the public, and I wanted to thank all of you folks, whether you bought something from me or offered moral support, for your encouragement of this sort of behavior. Many folks who’ve known me for years have commented on just how much…happier I’ve seemed now that I’m piloting my own retail ship, and you know, I really do think I am much happier. I’m sure I’ve mentioned that before, but it bears repeating. At least, I like hearing it.
I’ve already talked about a lot of this back when I hit the one year anniversary of leaving the previous job, about the ups and downs of the first year, about the stress of starting up and the travails of keeping everything going. But here I am, at the first year anniversary, and if I could make it through the first year, I can make it through the second. And the third. And the tenth. And the…hundredth? I expect to see you all there for “Mike’s Brain-in-a-Jar Comics” at that anniversary.
Seriously though, thank you, my Internet pals and my real life pals who read this site and remain my pals anyway, for all of your support and kind words for this particular endeavor. It means a lot to me. I’ve been working the retail end of this business for twenty-seven years, and yet, in my own shop, it feels new and fresh again. That’s a good feeling.
• • •
In other news:
For Halloween, customer Mark popped by the shop in his great Batman costume:
He’s entered himself in the Halloween ComicFest costume contest, and if you could pop over to Facebook and vote for him, I’d really appreciate it! Alternatively, you could go to the main site and search “sterling silver comics,” and his entry will show right up. Thanks!
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