Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Price Points and Tipping Points

This is old news for those of you following the comics blogosphere, but individual comic books are now more commonly priced at $3.99 versus the $2.99 cover price we have grown accustomed to over the last several years. In other words, bummer.

I'm feeling the pinch more than ever, and not just because of the economic downturn. Two things are putting my comic book budget under scrutiny: the first one being that as successful as I have been to convince my pals to read comics in trade paperback form, I still see the same expression cross their faces when I suggest they pick up an individual issue at cover price. It's a combination of "Are you for real?" and "Umm....Why?" That is, except when I hand them one of the increasingly popular $1 first issues. Everyone's doing it! I'm pretty sure Vertigo started the trend, and now every major publisher is jumping on board. I've even seen some stores setting up a $1 issue rack to entice readers, often cleverly set near the register next to other impulse buys like Nintendo themed candies and Garbage Pail Kid stickers. I can say with certainty that this plan is working. But what it is working toward is debatable. Obviously putting out the first issue of Watchmen for $1 is a great advertisement for the trade paperback but it's hard to imagine this is meant to get new readers interested in buying individual issues. The only instance where this really works in getting "new" readers is with the Vertigo line where virtually every recent new book has had a $1 first issue. I have picked up more than a few of these myself when I would have otherwise overlooked the new title (Vertigo's Sweet Tooth comes to mind).

In short, this gimmick successfully gets people to buy things they wouldn't normally get. It is great for jaded readers looking at their increased comic book costs, and it gets the inexperienced readers interested in essential books from the last 20 years, along with more recent hot properties like The Walking Dead and Old Man Logan. But it doesn't get those new readers thinking, "Better come back next month to get the next issue!" Because they don't have to. They can make their way over to the trade paperback section, and at a leisurely pace since those books aren't going anywhere. The idea of coming into a shop for a monthly title is still a foreign concept for many trade paperback readers, and with most of these $1 issues introducing completed or long running titles, the $1 issue does little to guarantee a monthly visit.

Back to what makes my palms sweaty as I reach for my wallet to pay for my pull list. The second hard-hitting reality is that there are a lot of good comics coming out. The often contagious pessimism amongst comic book fans can overshadow what is in actuality one of the most diverse times in recent memory. Sure, it's fun to rag on the recent mediocre big name books like Siege or Final Crisis, but for every underwhelming event comic there's something else a few shelves down worth checking out. I may not like what Marvel has done with the Avengers post-Civil War, but I sure do like what Marjorie Liu is doing with the new Black Widow ongoing. There are so many good books coming out, ones I hear nothing but rave reviews, such as Grant Morrison's Joe the Barbarian, that I simply can't afford to check them all out. Ashamed as I am to admit it, I'll even avoid picking them up so I won't have to add another title to my already bloated pull list. I'd have to drop half of my titles to justify taking on these raved-about books.

I think problem one and problem two have a shared solution. What if most, if not all first issues were $1? Can you imagine? I'd try so many more titles if this were the case. And I'd probably buy one for a friend, too, with the hope that they might like it enough to come back next month. I can't really argue that all comics be $1, as this would hardly leave room for much profit for publishers and stores alike. But I think all of this talk about digital comics bringing younger fans into the medium is absolutely  ridiculous, totally bonkers, and foolhardy! To expect such a passive outlet to become the savior of comic books is just idiotic. Let me spell it out for you, publishers: There is nothing easy about being a new reader. You don't know where to start, it's a pricey hobby for outsiders, and offering an online store for your books doesn't cater to inexperienced readers needs or interests. Say you were living in a cave forever, and you knew nothing of modern music (but you know about the internet, bare with me). You were told that iTunes was the most popular outlet to purchase music. You go to this "store", see a top ten and decide this would be a good place to start. You pay for, and then listen to, the most popular song that week, which happens to be "California Gurls" by Katy Perry featuring Snoop Dogg. You promptly move back into your cave.

This is even assuming that an online outlet for selling comic books would ever reach the same prominence of online music vendors (pardon me while I loudly guffaw). Since most people walking the street do in fact live in a cave when it comes to comic books, I think hoping that digital comics become the outlet of the future for new readers is a lot like throwing your apple core into the backyard and praying that you'll be harvesting apples next season. But you know, with a robot throwing the apple core. It's late, I'm mixing metaphors. Until digital comics prove me wrong and get comic books into the hands of new readers, young and old, I'll continue my crusade to harvest new nerds by doing what I've been doing for years: giving shit away. Letting my friends treat my collection as their own, and hope that one day, waiting for that next Walking Dead trade will be too long a wait and they will venture into the scary comic book store all by themselves.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

FCBD 2010: Awesome With a Side of WHOA

 Someone forgot to tell Spidey FCBD is a family friendly event.
Any devoted comic book nerd knows about Free Comic Book Day; it's like Christmas for readers. For those who are new to the world of comics, or just missed the many fliers your store probably had posted for months, FCBD is exactly what it sounds like. Every first Saturday in May, vendors (at their own expense) give away free comics. Not just any books, these are titles released exclusively for the event by publishers; they are often kid friendly and are always meant to entice newcomers. In addition to free books, stores often have sweet deals (50% trade paperbacks? yes please!), and as if that wasn't enough, some stores even offer the chance to meet celebs of nerdom! This was my first year as a true participant of FCBD as the past several years were spent behind the counter of a busy comic book store. Though that still allowed me to witness throngs of newbies getting their first taste of comic book goodness, this year I was able to visit as many comic book stores in one day as my feet would allow. And it was fantastic. First Stop:

1. Pack Rat Comics (Columbus, OH)

A trip weeks in the planning, this excursion took up most of the day as it required an hour of driving each way, but it was well worth the extra distance. This store was jam packed with a vast selection of new comics, trade paperbacks, kitschy collectibles (think original Ghostbusters lunchbox - with thermos). That rundown doesn't even include the  bargain basement, which felt like walking into someone's musty, collectible-filled fortress. This is all grand and dandy, but hardly what brought my friends and I away from the comic book heavy Dayton area - no sir, we came to meet Nicholas Brendon, aka XANDER HARRIS of BUFFY fame! If my crazy eyed expression doesn't already give it away, this was a pretty big deal.
 I totally played it cool, guys.
A throng of Buffy fans trying to think of something witty to say to Nicholas Brendon. 
Pack Rat Comics was definitely well prepared for the Buffymania.
Molly shows of her recent purchases. Even with the free stuff, she was easily turned to the dark side.
Alright, that's playing it cool. I'm pretty sure Xander is propositioning Molly. (P.s. - Isn't he dreeeeamy?)

2. Bookery Fantasy (Fairborn, OH)

Bookery, as it is affectionately dubbed by locals, was definitely a quick stop. From the looks of it, we had missed most of the crowds. The large scale of this store makes it hard for it to ever seem busy or packed, even on FCBD, which is why I was baffled by the fact that this store didn't have any writers or artists on hand. The owner explained to me that the event is hard enough to contain, and adding additional crowds would be too much to handle. I think these guys need to rethink that theory (too many people is usually a problem businesses want to have). To their credit, they gave out a coupon for "1 Free Discount Back Issue" which was awesome since they had about 10,000 to choose from. I walked away with issue one of Matt Fraction and Gabriel Ba's Casanova.

3. TAF (Dayton, OH)

Toys Action Figures is one of my favorite stores in Dayton. It's definitely a small joint, and they specialize more in toys than comics, but they have the best deals in town on trade paperbacks, and by far the best selection of action figures / mini-mates you'll ever find, period. Floor to ceiling toys (and these are probably 12 foot ceilings mind you), it is a stimulating little nook that can easily take up your entire afternoon with gazing. They had plenty of free books left even late in the day, which was appreciated. When I mentioned that my friend had to work, I was even able to take a few extra for her. A friendly crew that keeps me coming back for the personable staff and impressive collection of trades.

4. Bell, Book & Comic (Dayton, OH)

My last store of the day, I was pleasantly surprised to find that events were still underway at 6 pm after a long day of FCBD hullabaloo. Kids were still excitedly picking out their free books, requesting sketches from local artists on hands, while adults scoured the back issues and trades for finds. This was my first trip to Bell Book, and I have since revisited the store. The staff were eager to chat, and everyone involved with the event, from volunteers, to other shoppers, carried an infectious enthusiasm for the day. It definitely was a good way to end an already fantastic afternoon. Expect future coverage of this establishment.
A hilarious moment from Bell Book & Comic, this writer's handler (or wife) tries to explain to the curious fellows that his is "graphic novel" and "not for kids". 
The boys instead settled for a sketch from this artist who was more than willing to make them an age appropriate piece. 

Though meeting Nicholas Brendon was my highlight of FCBD, seeing the sheer excitement exhibited by countless folks came at a close second. I convinced my friend to spend $60 on trade paperbacks, despite the fact that she has read maybe ten comic books in her whole life. You'll be hard pressed to find more children in a comic book store on any other day than FCBD, and nothing beats the excitement of a child dressed like Batman, meeting a man dressed like Spider-Man. It's the one day of the year when true believers get the opportunity to show their friends and family, yes, this is what it's about, and now you get why I'm so excited about this wacky past time! It's a day tailor made for fans...that maybe need a little encouragement to realize it.

My apologies for not posting this overview earlier. Who knew I'd get to meet Xander Harris AND my new niece Vivia in the same week?