THE DEMISE OF THE COMICS SPINNER
I've posted about this before, but bear with me -- another angle on this just occured to me recently.
Lately I've become interested in local history and checking out various places in my neighborhood, particularly stores. A couple days ago I was walking around and walked by a Circle K convenience store which in the 1990s had been a Dairy Mart. Back in the 1980s, such stores in my area usually had a comics spinner of the current crop of comics. In the 1980s, most of my new comics purchases were made not at a comics shop, but at the local Dairy Mart and local 7-11 stores. I went to those convenience stores every week, mainly to buy the new comics. I even recall once when the new week's worth had arrived and the guy let me go through them before he had even put them in the spinner.
Now, however, these convenience stores (at least in my area) don't have comics spinners, and usually don't carry comics anymore even in the magazine shelf. So when I passed the local Circle K a few days ago, I didn't even bother going in. It was cold outside, so I wasn't going to buy a frozen drink or anything. However, if they carried comics, then I probably would have gone in, just to check out the comics. So, it seems to me that by dropping comics, this store has lost a potential customer. I don't know how many people there were like me, though. But when I think about how frequently I used to go to convenience stores in the 1980s compared to now, it seems to me that the lack of comics is the main reason that I don't go there much anymore.
However, local places that do carry comics, I do tend to make a point of visiting. There's a drugstore that is on the same road as my local comics shop, and when I walk to the comics shop, I often stop at the drugstore first to check out their magazine section. The drugstore has been there since the 1950s and reminds me of drugstores from my youth. They even still carry cold soda pop in glass bottles. They don't have a comics spinner, but they do have around a dozen different titles (mainly Marvel, DC, and Archie comics) on the magazine shelf. They also carry Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and one of the science-fiction mags, Analog I think. Not many places around here, outside of the bookstores, carry those either. So, as I said, whenever I walk to the LCS, I often stop in there to check out the comics & mags and sometimes get a pop or something to munch on for the long walk up to the LCS. So, by carrying comics, this drugstore has gotten me in their door as a potential customer, whereas otherwise I probably wouldn't have any desire to go in there. I think stores are only hurting themselves when they don't carry comics, and comics companies are only hurting themselves when they don't supply such stores with their product.
A second thing I've noticed lately is the recent popularity in my local area of Walgreens and CVS Pharmacy stores. As recently as the early 1990s, I hadn't seen a Walgreens in my area. Now there are TWO Walgreens store within a 10 to 20 minute walking distance. CVS has also become more popular, moving out of their smaller strip-mall spaces and building their own big new stand-alone stores on many major street corners around here. It seems like on every major street corner now there is either a Walgreens, CVS, or Rite-Aid. These places should have comics! While Mother is getting little Johnny's prescription filled, she (or sick Johnny) could be getting a new Spider-Man comic to make him feel better. If such stores can still sell candy bars (at higher prices than I paid when I was a kid), why not comics?
Although part of my reason for wanting to see comics in such places is for nostalgic reasons, for things to be like when I was a kid, I also think it makes good business sense, to get people like me into their stores more frequently. What do you think?
-- February 24, 2007; 12:56am
A JUST WAR?
"U.S. Military Deaths: Between the start of war on March 19, 2003 and August 22, 2005 2,060 coalition forces have been killed, including 1,866 U.S. military personnel.
(Not sure if they are counting Iraq only or Afghanistan as well...)
Total number killed in attacks (official figure as of 9/5/02): 2,819
(Not sure if they are just counting WTC-related deaths or all Sept 11-related deaths.)
I think the question has to be asked, was our response to 9/11 just? Have we sent 2000+ of our soldiers to their deaths in response (rhetorically anyway) to an enemy who sent 2000+ of our civilians to their deaths? Have we killed thousands more Iraqis (the first website says around 25,000) to avenge the deaths of 2000? Is that just? Isn't that a bit of overkill?
It would be like if I suspected someone had broken my $20 CD walkman, so in response I went over to their house and destroyed their $200 TV set and then set about to wrecking the rest of their home. How could anyone argue that that would be a reasonable and fair response?
And then we wonder why they hate us. Well, I guess most of us aren't wondering about that anymore.
Most of us seem to think that Afghanistan is the success story and Iraq is the real quagmire. I wonder about that. I'd like to see some of the numbers for Afghanistan, separate from the Iraq numbers, so we can see how many lives we've lost, how many we've taken, just in Afghanistan, and then compare them to the numbers lost in 9/11 and see if they consititute a just response. I get the feeling that if we had such numbers for Afghanistan readily available, and more coverage about its continuing problems, more Americans would change their minds about our Afghanistan venture being a "success," or even whether it was a "just cause."
This just in from Yahoo News: "US-led attack kills 76 in Afghanistan"
This sentence deserves noting: "The United States, which had been hoping to cut its Afghan force to 16,500, has 23,000 troops in Afghanistan, the highest number since 2001." (Emphasis mine.)
-- May 22, 2006; 9:05am
PETE STEWART SPEAKS OUT
The newest edition of INFUZE Magazine has an interview with Pete Stewart. For most of his career, Pete had been involved in the Christian music scene: in the mid-1990s with his band Grammatrain, as a solo artist circa 1999, and then with the band Tait around 2001. But then the next anybody heard, he had joined up with P.O.D.'s former guitarist Marcos Curiel with a new band called The Accident Experiment, whose dark lyrics surprised some of Pete's old fans. Some of them wondered if Pete was still a Christian. The controversy that started a couple years ago with the creation of The Accident Experiment continues to this day. I had hoped that Pete would have given an interview to the Christian media to explain his side of things, but at the time someone said Pete wasn't ready to talk. Now he is ready, but unfortunately it sounds like he is holding back in a way. In the "Comments" section below the interview, one of the interviewers hints that Pete is no longer a Christian based on one of his answers. Still, if Pete doesn't know what he believes, or whatever, I would have preferred him to say one way or another. Not that it's any of my business, but I think such clarity would then silence all the speculation chatter that erupts ("Is he or isn't he?") when one is vague about it.
And with that, it's now time for bed! Yawn!
-- May 6, 2006; 1:30am
CUPID & PSYCHE '85
Two of my favorite music videos from the 1980s have just gotten uploaded to YouTube.com. (I had checked last week and they weren't there, so I was pleased when I checked again a few hours ago and found them there.) Here they are... First up is Jesus and Mary Chain's "Just Like Honey" from 1985. I don't think I'd seen this video in 20 years....
And next up we have Scritti Politti's "Perfect Way," also from 1985 and totally different in sound and style than the video above. But for some reason I really dig them both. Green Gartside is the lead singer, whose buttoned-to-the-top shirts were a revelation to me at the time.
-- May 6, 2006; 1am
THE DEATH OF FANZINES
The ironic thing is that now with computer printing, printshop software, and copier places like Kinko's, it would seem that nowadays you'd have more snazzy-looking print fanzines floating around than in the past. But apparently all of that fannish energy has been funneled into webpages instead. It's too bad because I think one of the coolest things about fanzines was the fan art contributions, ranging from spot illustrations to full-blown comics stories. It's just not the same on the web.
On the other hand, the web provides an immediacy that the print publications sometimes lacked. If the zine was published infrequently, you never knew when (for example) your opinions might show up in its letter column, review section, etc. By the time a new issue appeared, with your letter or review in it, you might no longer even agree with what you had written!
I'm not sure if Robin Snyder's History of Comics is still being published. It was a monthly newsletter which perhaps could be called a fanzine. I love Robin's editing (judging by his 1980s comics, which are big favorites of mine), but I had to drop my subscription a few years ago due to the cost seeming to me to be a bit too much (something like $25 a year) for what amounted to around 8 pages per month.
I missed out on the glory days of fanzines but I'm grateful that I got to experience a taste of it in the 1980s-90s with Gene Kehoe's It's a Fanzine and Bill Hall's Ditkomania.
-- April 10, 2006; 11:03pm
PULL THE THING
The latest news on THE THING is that the comic risks getting cancelled if sales don't improve. The writer of the comic is urging fans to put it on their pull lists at their local shop, so that the retailer knows that the series has readers. Some people wait to buy the comic off the shelf instead, and the retailer doesn't know that people want the comic until much later on -- which could be too late. So, if you want to keep the series going, or any series for that matter, it's a good idea to add it to a pull list, so your local retailer will make sure to order the series.
-- April 4 2006; 3:21pm
MY IDEA OF HEAVEN
This might sound pathetic, but my idea of heaven is thumbing through boxes and boxes of quarter-boxes, knowing that anything you find therein will cost you only a quarter. Sure, there will be lots of duds to thumb past, but there is always the hope of finding something good, something cool, even something fantastic. (I could cite many such finds over the years. Off the top of my head, I once found a copy of the Australian comic THE PHANTOM, issue #1,000, which is over 300 pages long. One of the most off-beat items in my collection.)
However, I can sympathize with the desire to refrain from investing such time and effort in looking through such boxes. I felt that way recently when I stopped at a comics shop and gave the cheap boxes only a quick glance. It had been a long time since I'd updated my list of my collection, and I didn't want to buy something only to find out later that I already had it. Also, I've acquired so many comics and books lately that I'm becoming more picky about what I want to add to my collection; in fact I need to get rid of more books, not add to it.
-- March 31, 2006; 4:49pm
REVIEW: THE THING #4
Have you tried the new series starring THE THING? It's a lot of fun. I just read the latest issue, #4, and thought it was very enjoyable. The story has the Inhumans dog, Lockjaw, getting some shrapnel stuck in his fur and he goes around trying to get someone to take it out, but the other Inhumans are too busy to notice. Lockjaw goes to The Watcher, and the Watcher recognizes Lockjaw's predicament but says that he must not interfere in things, he can only observe, so he doesn't help.
So, then Lockjaw teleports to Earth and The Thing sees what is wrong right away and removes the thorn from Lockjaw's side. Then Lockjaw and Ben spend the day with Franklin and his little baby sister (Val or something? I forget her name), going to a carnival, etc. until a super-villain shows up. The story ends with Lockjaw helping to save the day. At the end of the story, the FF are having a picnic in the park and Lockjaw is playing frisbee with Ben, since Lockjaw has decided to stay with the FF for awhile, instead of The Inhumans. Also, in the story, there is a little moral about how money can't buy happiness. And a cameo by Iron Man, too! Good stuff!!
Other comics that I've been buying lately:
- CAPTAIN AMERICA (nice dark secret-agent look)
- NEW AVENGERS (somewhat cinematic style with some retro appeal due to the presence of Spider-Woman)
- LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES (well-written and fun)
- JONAH HEX (beautiful art, gritty western)
- BLOOD OF THE DEMON (I like Byrne, altho this can be gory at times)
- NEW THUNDERBOLTS (I like the art)
- SPIDER-GIRL (old-time Marvel style)
And I might end up adding DAREDEVIL to my pull list. This month's issue marks the debut of Ed Brubaker (writer) on the title, and I've enjoyed his Capt America, and when I flipped thru this issue at the comics shop on Tuesday, it looked good.
-- March 4, 2006; 5:17pm
THE SMELL OF OLD COMICS
The biggest divide or gap or whatever, between older comics fans and newer ones, seems to be when it comes to buying back issues. When I was a kid growing up in the 1970s-80s, me and my comics-buying friends bought both new AND old comics. We had discovered comics at the local drugstores (mainly new issues, although that would include new reprints of old comics such as "Marvel Triple Action"), so we bought new comics every week. When we learned about comics shops, we used that resource mainly to buy back issues of a favorite title, to build up our collection. Sometimes I still associate the sensation of opening up an old comic that has been bagged with those days of my youth when I first started buying back issues.
Although I wasn't born until the 1970s, I knew that a lot of the great comics (and movies, and music, etc.) had happened before I was born. And so I was open to experiencing them. And while 1960s issues (buying 1940s-50s comics was almost out of the question due to rarity and cost) could sometimes be expensive, you could still find comics like Tales of Suspense at a reasonable price. And doing so, you could see what Marvel used to be like, back when they were still a small company, back when they still had "Tales of the Watcher" back-up stories by Larry Lieber, and so on. It was easy to see the innocent charm in those old comics.
I went through most of the 1990s ignoring new comics entirely, sticking to the back issue boxes, but gradually I began to warm up to them again. I still avoid new comics that have clunky, distorted, badly-drawn art. I still wish that I could buy certain titles, if only the art was more realistic, less goofy-looking. But there are indeed new titles which appeal to me.
While I'm not crazy about Brubaker's bringing back Bucky (personally I hold out hope for it all being a ghastly mistake), I do find it to be intelligently written and nicely drawn. I buy it every month and it compares favorably with any other celebrated era in Cap's history.
Probably my favorite new title is "The Thing." Good solid realistic superhero art, fun story. The first couple issues have contained appearances by Nighthawk (of The Defenders), Black Goliath, and Iron Man. This new comic compares favorably to its 1970s counterpart, Marvel Two-in-One.
For most of last year, I was even buying (gasp!) Uncanny X-Men every month. Alan Davis had been doing the art, and the storyline took the X-Men to Ka-Zar's Savage Land. For anyone who likes a realistic style like Neal Adam's old X-Men issues, check out those Alan Davis X-Men issues from last year.
-- Feb. 18, 2006; 5:40pm
NEW COMICS ARE GOOD AGAIN
I'm one of those people who dropped out of the comics scene for most of the 1990s. I had started reading comics in the late 1970s as a child, but had become disenchanted in the post-Crisis world (late 1980s).
Ironically, it was probably a similar situation as to what was going on when I first started reading comics, only I wasn't aware of it back then.
Although I'm nostalgic for late 1970s comics -- "Still Only 35 Cents!" and all that -- it was a period where a lot of the fan-favorite guys like Steranko, Neal Adams, Barry Smith, Berni Wrightson, and so on, had mostly left the comics scene, doing portfolios and such instead. Eventually new fan-favorites like Byrne and Frank Miller emerged.
But by the late 1980s, it seemed to me like many of the new fan-favorites were taking a similar leave from comics, or else producing work that was not as visible, not as frequent, etc. Miller and Moore left DC, and went indie instead. New fan-favorites emerged in their absence, guys like McFarlane and Liefeld, neither of whom I found all that appealing.
By the 1990s, their popularity became so enormous that it seemed like everyone had to draw in that style. The "kewl" factor took over, and for the first time (to me, perhaps to others my age) it felt like the comics were being aimed at people younger (and apparently -- how should I put this -- less intelligent) than me. It felt like comics were being aimed at the lowest common denominator, aimed at people too stupid to know that they were being suckers for buying multiple #1's because they had different covers.
I look at the "Death of Superman" event as a primary example of this. Sure it made headlines and sold comics, but it looked like a stunt intended for a short-term burst of publicity, nothing more. No one ever thought that it meant anything, that Superman was really dead, so it was meaningless. If readers really thought that DC was killing off Superman, those readers looked like fools for having fell for it. Maybe those readers "wised up" and consequently stopped buying comics altogether, thinking that comics were all about cheap ploys hyped up as major events designed only for separating gullible fools from their money.
Those readers also probably "wised up" when they figured on recovering some of their losses and tried to sell some of those "Death of Superman" issues, only to find out that they were usually worth less than what they had paid for them.
I hated comics during this period, 1990-1996. I mostly stayed away from them entirely. Whenever I went to a comics convention, I stuck to the back issue boxes. Once a year or so, I'd pick up a new comic, which were ever-increasing in cover-price (and usually cost more than old back issues did), and I was usually turned off by what I saw. Even when I liked the artist, I kept noticing how the artist had changed his style to make it look more like one of the current "hot" artists, which in my view made it look worse.
I think in the late 1990s things began to change for the better. People didn't seem to be falling over themselves to follow cheap "event" comics as much. More buzz was generated about books with solid writing than flashy art -- titles like Astro City, Starman, etc. Sure, the "cinematic" style took over, but it felt a little more intelligent than before. At least the movie style assumed that readers would be able to fill in the blanks without having to have everything explained, which does assume some intelligence on the readers part (although I'm not particularly a fan of the cinematic style).
So, I'm buying many new comics every month, just like I used to back in the 1980s. And in some instances, I'm enjoying the new issues as much (or more) as I enjoyed the new stuff back then.
I've shared my enthusiasm for these new comics with a friend of mine who used to read comics back in the late 1980s. He's tempted, saying "I was looking at some of the new Conans, it looks pretty good -- I might pick up a few of the trade paperbacks sometime. The new Red Sonja also looks interesting, but I'm not sure if want to get into collecting any monthly titles right now." In a follow-up email he wrote, "Not sure how much I want to get sucked into buying monthly comics again -- I'm still working part-time, so at $3 a pop that would start to add up pretty quickly."
It would seem that comics-buying is an "investment" that many people, even those inclined to buy them otherwise, are not prepared to make. There's the feeling that you just can't buy one comic, you have to commit yourself to a whole story arc, an entire series, possibly even a whole company's output. And understandably, many people don't want to tempt themselves to get "sucked into buying monthly comics again" as my friend put it. They are worried that if they buy one, they'll have to buy another and another, etc. And pretty soon they'll feel burned out and want to drop comics entirely or cut back drastically. Of course, trade paperbacks are ideal for those readers who may just want to buy one or two, to test the waters and yet get a complete story for their money. On the other hand, they tend to cost more than many people who want to "test the waters" are willing to spend on something that they might not like. (And if they don't like it, that's one more reader who will probably be more hesitant to buy a TPB again. Which demonstrates the danger of putting "everything" in TPB form.)
If we want today's comics to be more popular, we just need to convince those who have gotten "burned" by comics in the past that comics are worth reading again. Perhaps Marvel and DC should have a "Come back home..." type advertising slogan. Or, "You can go home again..."
-- January 5, 2006; 7:38pm