Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Chronic Thanksgiving Special: Home Game!

We covered this story in the opener of Chronic # 213, the Thanksgiving Special, but you really need the visuals in order to properly enjoy it.

In this case, a picture is worth a desire to leave the planet.  This is Oneal Ron Morris, dispenser of creative cosmetic surgeries.  If you want your booty to look like this, Mr./Ms. Morris would be more than happy to inject your ass with cement, mineral oil, and Fix-A-Flat for only $700.  Wow.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Market Spotlight: There Are Limits!


As loyal Gamers and readers of the blog already know, I've been sending out shipments of trades to CGC for grading each month.  It's a bit of an adventure, because nobody is really doing this outside of myself.  I'm blazing the trail here, and discovering that yes, there are limits.

What have I learned so far?  There is debate in the CGC Towers about what tier to place the trades in.  I tried to do the right thing, by the way, and sent multiple emails to the address given on the CGC website explaining what I was considering and asking for guidance.  I received no response to any of these emails.  Not a "we don't do that sort of thing", not a "I'm not sure, but let me dig into it and get back to you".  Just... nothing.  To be fair, any time I've sent an email requesting info or a correction on an order, I've received a response within 24 hours.  But until they had my money, nobody over there was interested in what I had to say.  Not sure if those two concepts are related or not.  But they might be.  Just maybe.

Under Siege:  Maximum beefiness allowed
I've sent in each of my shipments under the regular "modern" tier of grading, ($17/book) the same tier you'd use to process any comic published after 1980.  The first four times I sent books in for grading, nobody batted an eye.  The fifth shipment, I received an email claiming my books were too big, and that they'd be processed under the "magazine" tier.  (slightly more expensive at $23/book)  Then I got a backtracking email a few hours later stating that there was no problem, and that they'd be happy to slab my books in magazine sized cases for the regular modern price.

I've been experimenting with the sizes of the trades, searching for capacity.  The first batch I sent was mostly super thin stuff that I couldn't imagine anybody objecting too, and have been pushing the thickness barrier up ever since.  I thought for sure I would hit it with Avengers: Under Siege, which is kind of a beast.  They graded that, slabbed it, and sent it back without blanching.

This time, though, they graded Green Lantern: Power of Ion, and then decided they couldn't fit it into a slab.  I know they graded it a 9.6, because I saw it posted on the web site on my order page.  So, if you want to know if your trade is slabbable, just plunk it down next to Power of Ion and you'll have your answer.  Anything thinner than that should be good to go.

It costs to make these mistakes, by the way.  I didn't get a refund for that book, nor would I consider asking for one.  They provided the service, and I sent in a pretty ridiculously sized tome.  I consider it a "buyer beware" situation of my own creation, and just part of the cost of doing business.

I also sent in my best copy of the Spawn Capital Collection, a nice limited piece offered only to specific retailers and signed by Todd McFarlane.  CGC is not really in the signature verification game unless they have their own people peering over the creator's shoulder as its signed, though, so my book says "T McFarlane written in marker on first page".  I don't know why, but I find that adorable.

They're in a tough spot on that one, actually.  Those books are a known commodity, so there's no reason to suspect foul play or a ghost signer.  Everybody understands that Todd signed those books.  If they didn't think it was signed, my book honestly should have been sent back with a green "qualified" label, because it had been written on.  I'm glad they didn't do that, by the way, because that green label is pretty much a death sentence to the perceived value of the book.

I do wish they had stated what color the "T McFarlane" was written in, though.  I have two copies - one is signed in green, the other in red.  It's possible that one of those signatures is significantly more rare than the other, and should probably be reflected on the slab.  I could have asked, I guess, but I didn't.

I think it's more important to note the edition of the book, but the CGC graders do not make those distinctions.  The year of publication is listed, so one could ostensibly determine edition based on that information, provided that the book didn't go to press multiple times within the calendar year.  If I could make one change in the way CGC does things with trades, I'd request they list the print edition on the slab.  On the whole, though?  I'm more than satisfied.

Some of you may be wondering about the speed of these transactions.  The regular modern tier claims a 20 business day turnaround.  That's not been my experience.  It's actually about a two month wait, although things seem to be speeding up a bit lately.  Word on the board is that things bog down during convention season, and that the wheels churn more quickly from October-January.

There's quite a bit of venom to be had on the member forums, almost exclusively directed at CGC for their turnaround times.  Many of them have a legitimate gripe.  Think about this - for books older than 1980, your cheapest option is the value tier.  You can't send in anything that could be expected to trade at more than $150, and you have to send in a minimum of 30 books.  At $23/book, you're sending CGC more than $700 after the shipping costs, and the stated wait is 40 business days.  It is now November 22, and they're just sending out value books they received on July1.  If I sent somebody $700 and had to wait six months for my service....I'd be pissed, too.  Especially when the sign says it's a two month process.

But the thing is...where else you gonna go?  Gonna send those books out to PGX?  No, I didn't think so.  Unless Robert Overstreet wants to set up shop as competition or something, I don't think CGC really has to care what their constituency thinks, because they are The Man.

- Ryan

Monday, November 14, 2011

Market Spotlight: Results Edition!

Welcome to your 8:1 profit margin

Rather than look at "new" findings and looking at future profits, I thought it might be instructive to focus on actual artifacts that sold for actual profits.

So for this column I printed out everything I've sold on Amazon since my last Market Spotlight entry on November 7.  I'm also listing (when known) what I paid for the book in question, and the source of the book.  It's a very small sample size, and we're heading into the height of Christmas book season, so sales are slightly more brisk than they would be in say, May.  The point is that this list certainly doesn't tell the whole story on book scouting by any stretch.  But it might tell some kind of useful story.

November 8, 2011

Black Canary/Oracle: Birds of Prey
Purchase Price:  $5.00
Source:    $5.00 box of trades at Fallcon
Sold for:  $27.99

November 10, 2011

Classic Gambit
Purchase Price:  $2.00
Source:   Half Price Books clearance rack
Sold for:  $14.99

X-Men: Blinded by the Light
Purchase Price:  $7.50
Source  Half Price Books (Fallcon)
Sold for:  $34.99

Art of Hack Slash
Purchase Price:  $13.99
Sold for:  $39.99

Batman:  Shaman
Purchase Price:  unknown
Source:  unknown
Sold for:  $29.99

November 11, 2011

Essential Conan
Purchase Price:  $7.00
Source:  Half Price Books (Fallcon)
Sold For:  $29.99

November 13, 2011

Purchase Price:  $3.50
Source:  Half Price Books (Fallcon)
Sold for:  $17.99

Hellblazer: Hard Time
Purchase Price:  $9.50
Source:  Local Comic Shop
Sold For:  $29.99

Green Arrow: Straight Shooter
Purchase Price:  $3.60
Source:  Lone Star Comics
Sold For:  $19.99

Countdown to Final Crisis Vol 4
Purchase Price:  $10.00
Source:  Half Price Books (Fallcon)
Sold For:  $34.99

Invisibles Vol 2:  Apocalipstick
Purchase Price:  $19.50
Source:  Local Comic Shop
Sold For:   $37.99

November 14, 2011

Batman: Venom
Purchase Price:  $5.00
Source:  Comic Collector Live
Sold For:  $39.99

Secret Six: Depths
Purchase Price:  $14.50
Source:  Local Comic Shop
Sold For:  $34.99

Secret Six: Six Degrees of Devastation
Purchase Price:  $14.50
Source:  Local Comic Shop
Sold For: $34.99

Looking at the results from the past couple of days, you can see illustrated many of the points I keep hammering on.  It's hard to sell an expensive book.  People are very willing to drop $20 or less, less willing at $30, but still doable.  The highest price realized was $39.99, and that's fine, particularly when you're able to score that copy of Batman: Venom for only a fiver!

Incidentally, we're getting to the time of year when wallets will loosen up a bit, and you will be able to move those deluxe high-end hardcovers.  But even in the midst of that Christmas buying season, it's pretty easy to see that your money is made buying material dirt cheap and then trying to flip it in that $20-$30 range.  You turn the product over, and then you funnel it into more product.

Yeah, I might have been able to squeeze another $5 out of a book or two in this list.  But then again, maybe not.  You're not doing yourself any favors letting that book collect dust on the shelf for a couple of bucks.  Turn it over and keep that machine rolling!  How much sense does it make to hold onto a book for an extra $5 when you could have turned it into new product that generates another $10, or $30?  I check my listings about twice a month and do some surgery, slashing prices to meet the "new" market.

Not every book is going to be a grand slam.  Sometimes you may end up selling a book for less than you paid for it.  Take your lumps and dump that liquid capital into something that will earn you some money.  You do yourself no favors waiting for that dead end to cycle back.  Granted, higher end product requires a little patience to find the right buyer.  But if you're still sitting on that book you bought a year ago waiting for a miracle, you're making a mistake.  Purge it, and generate somewhere else.

You can also see the benefits of diversifying your sources.  Work those conventions, hit the used book stores, cultivate multiple online sources.  Look to hit that sweet spot of 3:1 as much as possible.  Unless.  I'll settle for 2:1 on material I know I can move.  I had already sold a half dozen copies of Invisibles: Apocalipstick, so I was perfectly confident in a relatively quick sale.  In that case I'm happy to pay $20 for a book that will sell for $38.  But even that involves some risk, because the day DC goes back to press - poof!  You're stuck with what you've got at way less than cover.  This is why I trickled them out, and never had more than 2 on my shelf at a time.

The total for all items came to $428.86, but understand that Amazon is getting about 20% of that.  So my actual take is something like $343.09, and that's not profit, that's revenue.  Adding up purchase prices, I get about $115.59, but I just don't remember where I got Batman: Shaman from or what I paid for it.  It might have been from Lone Star, in which case it would have been in the $12 range.  It might be a straggler from a large Batman lot I scored ages ago, in which case the cost would be under $5.  Whatever I paid for that book, I'm still solidly in that 3:1 sweet spot for the whole lot.

Total profit?  Somewhere in the neighborhood of $215-$220, which is high for me but not completely out of control.  Can you quit your job and do this instead?  Probably not.  Maybe if you expanded your game outside of TPBs you could do it.  Can you sell enough books to subsidize a really nice comic collection?  Yeah, I'd say you can.

- Ryan

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Idle Thoughts!

I think I've been going through my version of a mid-life crisis off and on since I was about 23 years old.  I've been thinking extensively about death lately, most particularly my own.  Not because I get some kind of macabre satisfaction out of it, and not because I'm suffering from acute fear of it, either.

Right in the tit hole, John
I've been considering my own demise because I consider a lot of things, and I've always been drawn naturally to those subjects that other people just don't, or more to the point won't think about.  Denial is for pussies.  Give me the rough stuff, every time.  One of the better ironies of life is that nobody gets out alive, and as for the rest, well...I have my own theories.  Theories being all we have, of course.  If you value your safety, you will not approach me with any "but Colton Burpo knows what happens after death" kind of gibberish.  Fuck him and John Edward in the tit hole.  Charlatans and sideshow barkers are anyone who tells you they can pierce that veil. 

Nobody knows, which is simultaneously disconcerting and wonderful.  Your life would lose a great deal of its luster were it not in question.  Trust me on that.

No, I'm not going to last forever, which is fine.  Or is it?  On the Myers-Briggs chart I come out as an "NT", or Rational.  That means a lot of things, but mostly it makes me one of those assholes with his head in the clouds, looking at the "big picture", and finding microscopic faults with everything and everyone.  I'm a prime source of irritation for those around me, but if it's any consolation, nobody feels the cuts of my own analytical blade more than I do.

So I've been under the knife all day, pruning thoughts, comparing where I've been to where I am.  Wondering if it measures up, "it" being my accomplishments, I suppose.  Wondering if "I" measure up, meaning my practical positive impact on my environment, I suppose.  I don't know that I do measure up, but the good news is that (a) there is still (a continuously depleting cache of) time, and (b) it could be worse.  This is my version of health, hope, and optimism by the way.

Sometimes it's difficult to even know what one is.  If you dissect yourself logically, there isn't a cell on you that was there even seven years ago.  I'm not the same man I was, no matter how you approach the concept.  Attack the physical or the ineffable, I make decisions now that would be inconceivable to 23 year old Ryan, whom I now consider an idiot of the highest caliber.  I admire that kid's stones, though, I'll tell you that.

As I dug deeper, though, something of a core emerged.  The machine may have gotten more complex, and it might operate differently, but it's possible I've always been the same machine.

Let me tell you who I am.

We used to take trips down to New Ulm every couple of months to visit my grandparents.  It was a two hour drive or thereabouts, it felt like it took a week to get there.  It was the 1970s, mind you, I didn't have a phone that could download cartoons or a television housed in the headrest in front of me.  Mostly I just had motion sickness to entertain me.

I did bring some toys with me to pass the time once we got there.  When I was a young child, I loved to do jigsaw puzzles.  I quickly outgrew the simple puzzles with the fat pieces and moved on to the colorful 100 piece puzzles featuring cartoon characters by the time I was three years old. 

Puzzles were attractive because they were simultaneously creative and scientific.  Puzzles have rules, and strategies.  Ultimately, they always make sense - the corresponding shapes will fit together.  If it's not fitting together, it aint the puzzle that's broke, it's you. There are clues in the colors, or the borders.  If you know what you're building, (if you can see the picture) you can use that information to make productive choices.  If you have discipline and can perceive correctly, you can take a giant goddamn mess and create a picture of Pink Panther besting Inspector Clouseau.

I remember one particular trip I brought a Pink Panther puzzle with me and set up my puzzle board in a side hallway near the spare bedroom so I wasn't blocking the path to the bathroom.  My dad custom built my puzzle board, and it was one of my prized possessions.  I don't know what kind of wood it was, but it was super smooth on the puzzle building side, and had a little texture on the floor side.  Knowing my dad, he did that on purpose because a little friction on the floor side would help keep the board from moving if place on carpeting.  Holding still is a plus when doing puzzles.

My puzzle board was also covered with Star Wars stickers.  I think you got one sticker in each pack of Star Wars cards, and I had a lot of those.  If I got a "double" of a sticker, it went straight onto the puzzle board.  Bam!  I wish I had that puzzle board now, actually.  But I digress.

So I finished my Pink Panther puzzle, and then I decided to do it straight away again.  I turned it into a next-level game.  I had done the puzzle a number of times, so my "victory" wasn't in question.  Completing it wasn't the goal in more - I decided to absolutely master it.  So I put myself on an internal clock, and vaguely began timing myself, and testing to see how quickly I could finish.

I'd been at the same puzzle for hours, though, and after awhile folks started to notice that I wasn't a dumbass kid taking forever to do one puzzle, but instead was a psychotic dumbass kid rifling through the pieces like a frenetic compulsive, and was getting to the point where I wouldn't make a wrong move and was assembling the thing inside of five minutes.  My aunt began to time me, and begged other folks to watch.  Which they did.  And against their better judgement, some were mildly impressed.  But underneath that, they thought I was a bit odd.

And that's who I am, and who I've always been.  Trapped in my own little world, marshaling my own pocket of skills into some kind of scientific/artistic nirvana.  And a little weird.

The good news is that I'm mostly OK with that.  There's something to be said for branching outside of one's pocket nirvana and affecting a better change for those around you.  I heartily endorse that concept.

Not important, but it's what we got
But here's the deal - you can't fake it.  You can branch the nirvana out of the pocket, if it allows, and you're able.  It's more important that you find that "one thing" that Curly was talking about and run with it, for you.  Because the truth of the matter is that we are living on the ass end of the Orion-Cygnus arm in the ass end of a low rent galaxy.  If the universe were a party, we would not be dancing.  We wouldn't even be a discarded plastic cup.  We would be a tiny sliver of a tiny speck of dust on the door jam. 

So even if you cure cancer for all humans for all time, I have some good news and some bad news.  The good news is, you cured cancer for all humans for all time.  The bad news is that there are about 200 billion stars in this galaxy, and about 200 billion galaxies in the observable universe.  There is nothing going on here that is meaningful in the big picture. 

Now, that can be depressing, if one is overly tied up in ego, and drama, and selfishness.  We're just not that important.  The silver lining is that such a realization can also be quite liberating, because it takes some of the pressure off, doesn't it?  And in the end, even if you are on the ass end of the Orion-Cygnus arm of the Milky Way, sometimes the most important thing in the universe is whether or not that hot chick you really clicked with last night will call or not.  You've got the best of both worlds if you want it.

This has been a very long way of rationalizing my largely irresponsible and socially awkward interest in comic books.  It's just another interest, another pocket nirvana for me to explore.  There are more than 100 pieces to factor in, and they don't always fit.  But it's still fun, and there is a sense that I might master the concept if I show discipline, and there are certainly colorful characters involved.

It's my thing, (for now) and I'm not faking it.  And I'm a little weird.  When I die, I suspect that a small handful will remember me fondly, and also probably lament that I didn't spend more time with more prudent pursuits.  And that's fine.  I also bet that many of them will wish that they had spent a little more time in their pocket nirvana on their own journey, instead of marching to some other's orders. 

And that's life.

- Ryan

Monday, November 7, 2011

Market Spotlight!

It's been overlong since I've done one of these, mainly because I'm having trouble finding anything new that really looks enticing.  Uncanny X-Force # 4 is completely out of its mind right now, that's for sure.  But that was Rich's homework, not mine.  What I should probably do is either talk about some really powerful "old" material, or get into some next-level thinking on the actual nuts and bolts of selling.

Instead, I'll just talk about these tepid little tomes:

Black Panther: Bad Mutha
ISBN:  0785117504
SRP:    $10.99
Amazon Min:  $20+

Not exactly a barn burner at the $20 mark, and I don't imagine the Reggie Hudlin era is remembered as a high point of the character's progression.  In the long term, I think I like Priest's "Enemy of the State" better than this as an investment.

But in the now, the initial investment isn't that much, and if it spikes up from here, the margins look pretty darned good.  I've had good success finding a couple copies for around $5 as well, which takes a lot of the risk out of the equation.  Again, not my favorite find in the world, but I bet I make some money on this one.

Green Lantern Corps: The Dark Side of Green
ISBN:  1401215076
SRP:     $12.99
Amazon Min:   $20/$30

I've had much success with a wide selection of Green Lantern books, although this is the first simmerings I've observed from the "Corps" camp.  Can't say I fully trust it, yet, especially when Amazon doesn't even have it listed correctly.  (It's in there now as "darker" side of green) 

But it doesn't seem crazy for this to be riding the coattails of the well popular Geoff Johns books. (none of which do well in the secondary market as trades because they keep up with supply)  If you can dig one up in the 50% range in nice shape, it's tough to imagine losing money on that.

George RR Martin's Hedge Knight TPB
ISBN:  0785127240
SRP:    $14.99
Amazon Min:  $????

This one is kind of an intriguing, disgusting mess.  I've actually sold the hardcover version of volume one for a profit before.  Martin's got a little heat on him now with the success of the Game of Thrones HBO show, so the thesis on this one is actually strong.

But again, this thing is a mess.  The listings on Amazon are all over the place.  There's a book club version of this, which is bad, because that generally means a much larger supply lying somewhere latent and waiting.  It's a little dodgy to figure out where exactly to list the damn thing, even with an ISBN, and prices are spotty as well.  Near as I can tell, nobody is selling this for less than $30 right now.

I did see a corroborating sale on eBay recently, where some poor bastard apparently gave up $75 for a copy of this book.  More than one witness tends to make the story sound more plausible.  And to be fair, even a giant latent supply doesn't necessarily kill the profit. Not sure that I did better with anything last year than Cowboys & Aliens, which had an absolutely monster supply behind it.  I was buying multiple copies from Instocktrades for $2, posting them, and then selling them for $20-$35 overnight. 

Long story longer, I think you can make money on this book, but I would be awfully wary about sinking money into multiple copies.  I think supply can catch up on this quite quickly.

- Ryan

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Best of Times/Worst of Times: Cinematic Storytelling Part 2!

OK, so...Cloak & Dagger: Spider-Island doesn't really have anything to do with Spider-Island.  You would not get that notion from the "Cloak & Dagger: Spider Island" banner, or the legion of guys in Spider-Man costumes littering the cover.  This is called "button-hooking" the audience, and it does not add value to the package.  In fact, it's a giant dick in a disadvantaged orifice.

Oh, some will look at the trim and claim I'm hyperbolizing.  Yes, there are spider mutates mucking about in the background of the series.  Dagger even fights some for a little bit in issue # 1 before she decides she'd rather be going to her community college course.  That's how important Spider Island is to this series - Dagger actually engages with it and then basically says "This is boring the shit out of me, I'd rather do homework."  So if you dropped your money down looking for events to flesh out what Dan Slott is doing over in Amazing Spider-Man, then Marvel willfully lied to you and stole your money.  Now that's value!

No, the story has nothing whatever to do with Spider Island.  This is about Nick Spencer re-defining Cloak & Dagger, physically and thematically.  The catalyst is one Mr. Negative, who is burdened with a prophecy that Dagger will be the death of him. 

Spoilers ahoy now - he captures her, uses some kind of mysticism to invert her powers and turn her into a darkforce wielder, and then Cloak shows up to save her, and somewhere in the process he turns into a light wielder.  So they make out, their powers flip-flop, and then Mr. Negative just leaves her alone.

Now, that may be all well and good.  Maybe.  It's a very weird anti-climax that Negative just lets her go, although that weirdness is at least acknowledged in the script.  It doesn't necessarily make the story feel more satisfying, though.  It feels like most everything in Marvel feels like these days - narrative check kiting.  "I know you didn't get what you were looking for in this story, kids, but that's because we've got the REAL big thing coming up next!"  And then the next "real big thing" comes along and fails miserably as well, but just wait until that next one, folks, when the SUPER real big stuff happens!  Pfff.  I'm not amused.

Which isn't to say that nothing happened in the series.  Parts of it were quite entertaining.  I enjoyed the new takes on both Ty and Tandy, they felt more like real people than they have in, well, ever.  Switching the powers/roles of the duo is, I suppose, a "big thing" potentially.  Mr. Negative was sort of refreshing in that he's smarter than your average bad guy bear.  I'm not saying I've never seen this before, but often the best guys are truly evil while still maintaining a strict sense of honor and use next-level thinking more than brute violence.  Peter David is the king of writing these villains.  And to be fair, I think the end of the book, where Spencer goes for the slightly more difficult emotional ending carried by tenderness?  I think that worked.  Basically.

But it was all overplayed, there wasn't enough in it, and it took me about four minutes to read.  And this is where the devil's advocates begin to rant "Ah man, it took you four minutes because you're not stopping to appreciate the art and pause to absorb everything and let it sink in!"

To which I reply:  it took me four minutes to read because there twenty pages of content, and by my count nine of those were either splash pages or double splash pages.  That's bullshit.  No story is that big.  If cracked the galaxy in half, you don't need nine splash pages to do that.  A couple of crazy New York kids switching their super-powers definitely don't need nine splash pages.

It's gets to the point where I can't even really guess the purpose any more.  Here's the first splash page of the comic, which is really nothing more than just changing scenery:

What is the point of that?  Can you even see anything in that shot?  Yeah, spiders are running around, we get it. What was so important there, that it required 5% of the entire story space?  There is such a thing as the Law of Diminishing Returns.  The splash page, near as I can reckon, is a trick in the artist's tool box to lock in on a key moment in a story or character's progression.  It says "big" by being physically larger, showing more detail, using a greater percentage of the story space to give a dynamic moment a chance to be all that it can be in relation to the rest of the text.  That's what it's supposed to be.

The above panel is....just a change of scenery.  We already know things got dark.  We already know there are giant mutated spiders running around.  Nothing is at stake, and nothing is amplified because none of the figures are large enough to exhibit any detail.  To me, this is inexcusable, even it weren't over used. 

But it is.  A large number of panels for a page in this comic is five.  The scene where Ty moves in to save Tandy from the darkness?  Big scene, sure.  But it takes up six pages, five of which are either splash or double splash pages.  Four of them amount to a pair of "making out" double splashes.  It's too much, man, and it's overdone. 

And then you've got three pages of post spit-swapping pillow talk, followed by a fourth splash page:

It's pure self indulgence.  It's writers thinking that every one of their scenes is a shining pearl in the annals of the medium, and nothing less than a full panoramic view will suffice for the legendary shit they're putting down.  It's artists who are more in love with their secondary market re-sale value than the story their telling.  The pin-ups look good.  Mostly.  But you get to the end of the comic, and most of what happened:

A) Had nothing to do with Spider-Island, in direct opposition to all promises and marketing
B) Didn't particularly make sense given the motivations of the villain as portrayed in the series
C) Seems built entirely to erase all drama within the series in order to point to the next series
D) Takes a few scant minutes to plow through

Just to reiterate, I don't think Cloak & Dagger: Spider Island is a bad story.  I think what's there is enjoyable.  But it feels light, and inefficient, and self-indulgent.  A thing can be good and still be over-priced, and that's exactly what Cloak & Dagger is.  Unfortunately, that's what a lot of comics in 2001 are.

- Ryan

Friday, November 4, 2011

Best Of Times/Worst Of Times: Cinematic Storytelling!

Right now is the absolute best and worst time to be reading comic books, for a myriad of reasons.  The best books I've ever read in my now 30+ year career in reading these damn things...I'm reading now.  And yet it never fails that each week I find my blood pressure rising and throwing something down in disgust.  Sometimes I'll declare the same comic genius and also throw it down in disgust at some point in the reading process.  

If there's an over-arching, primary, 600-pound-gorilla-type-problem in the industry currently, it's the problem of value.  It's hard to scientifically clarify what we mean by a comic with that exhibits good "value", although having the page count to flesh out the stories does help.  I think we can all think of shorter comics or even back-up features that have entertained and earned the cover cost, and I believe we've all read longer works that didn't pay off with a visceral response.  Which had greater value?

I suppose we know it when we experience it, but also I think lost in the potential nitpicking is the very obvious and demonstrable claim:

Today's comics are the least efficient and most expensive comics in the history of the medium.

With very few exceptions, there are no comics that leave one feeling they've received good value - even the comics one enjoys.  I'm going to talk about two examples I read this evening; Last of the Greats # 2, and Cloak & Dagger: Spider-Island # 3.  Here's the thing.  I genuinely enjoyed both books, and in fact, I thought what was there in LOTG was pretty fantastic.  But here's the other thing:

This is Charles at the end of his presser, explaining to the world that the last remaining great is perfectly willing to fix the world as they know it, but he's going to require a serious adulation commitment.  Then he walks away from the mic.

Now, I'm not a complete rube.  I intellectually understand an attempt at poignancy when I see it.  But what does that PAGE, and what is pictured above is an entire PAGE of the LOTG # 2, actually accomplish?  I imagine that Joshua Fialkov sees us slowing down our eyes and fully digesting this, his most dramatic of all moments.  Because he has ordered Brent Peeples to fill a largely empty page with a microphone and a grim, statuesque figure, we are now understanding the true and pregnant implications of the people's decision.

And you know what?  If this kind of thing happened in a comic book series once every six months, these little tricks might have that kind of power.  The problem, or one of the big problems, is that today's writers think every little scene they write is the BIGGEST THING THAT HAS EVER HAPPENED IN COMICS.  That scene where Charles walks away from the mic is actually a waste of everyone's time.  We only get twenty pages a month to move these forward, gents.  You can't waste them with a line of dialogue and a smear of blue watercolor for a background.  That's a waste of time, and a waste of my money.

This scene to me is even worse:

What is the point of the first three panels, and why couldn't that have been conveyed in one panel, about half the size used?  Here's the story beat: the angry child is running away.  That's it.  Why does that require 70% of a page to illustrate?  We're not breaking new ground here or pushing the medium forward.  This is a waste of space, a waste of my time, and a waste of my money.

Comics are not television or movies, and I dearly wish they'd stop trying to be.  The juice in comics is what happens between your ears between the panels.  It's about connecting dots, not throwing still shots of film cells on a page.  Take this gun scene, as an example:

Charles is depressed. We know this.  It's fine to re-establish that, to show a grim despondency and set the scene emotionally again.  But why do we need a play-by-play of the gun inching toward his head?  "Sad look with gun on table" + "gun at temple" in next scene is more than enough for us to get the idea.  These panels don't need to be that big, either.  Not to tell the story.  

My conclusion upon finishing Last of the Greats # 2 was that it was an outstanding little chunk of a story I'm enjoying very much...that I also overpaid for.  And this one was one of the $2.99 books!  I didn't clock myself reading it, but completing the issue took closer to five minutes than ten. 

Joshua Fialkov is a smart writer.  He's not afraid to cut to the heart of the dark part of human nature, but he does it with some elegance instead of hitting you with a sledge hammer.  Last of the Greats has an outstanding hook - dirt simple with lots of layers.  I don't want to ruin anything by just blurting out all the plot details, but issue # 1 had me flip-flopping on where I invested my sympathy twice, and then at the beginning of the second issue, the remaining Great pulls a maneuver that makes you question everything again.  

A child is fed to sharks at some point, and its not just for Mark MillarianFialkov is good to the point where it pays to think about these things, because you can bet he has.  It means something.

This is a story with both theme and purpose, something more comic books should take note of and do likewise.  I really enjoy this story.  

But does Last of the Greats # 2 have good value?  No, it does not. It has better value than a dull comic of the same length, width, and efficiency, but that doesn't mean it's a good value.  Not enough happened.

And this isn't an isolated occurrence.  In the same pile I read Fialkov's I, Vampire # 2.  Also a good book with a wicked hook.  Star-crossed lovers in an unhealthy supernatural co-dependent relationship, ready to take the vampire nation to the next level, in inevitable opposition with the superhero community.  But if you break I, Vampire # 2 into its basic ingredients, what you have is a lot of poetic posturing, one vampire fight where the protagonist in never in any actual danger, and the realization that Mary set him up for it just to make life tougher for him down the line.  It could have been done in five pages, easy.  In the golden age, it probably would have been done in two pages at most.

And I'm not positing that we need a return to the golden age by any stretch.  Not enough sophistication there to satisfy modern sensibilities.  But neither do we need a page to show a many walking away from a microphone, either.  Surely there's a middle ground in there somewhere?
It's self indulgence of the highest order.  It's the assertion that these scenes are all of such magnitude that each sublime moment must have a double splash page for the masses to properly digest the galactic implications.  It's absurd.  

But Fialkov is by no means alone or the worst of his kind.  No, the King of Self Indulgence is the divinely conceived Nick Spencer.  And I'll show you how Cloak & Dagger: Spider Island # 3 blows the doors off LOTG in terms of inefficiency when next I pontificate at you.

- Ryan