February 14th, 2005

Eye of the Dragon


pyat and I were discussing the ignonimous demise of the wargaming market this morning, and its relevance to the current tabletop RPG market.

Frankly, I see a brighter future for RPGs than I do for comic books.

Despite the remarkable success of comic book properties in the mainstream media, the sales of actual monthly comics continue to decline. The only segment of the market that seems to be latching onto new readers are the imported manga. Despite a brief flirtation with "Marvel Manga" a couple of years ago, the Big Two have missed the REAL appeal of manga over comics: BIG THICK BOOKS FOR CHEAP.

As Pyat pointed out, "They still prefer to charge 7 bucks for a glossy colour piece of fluff."

That's Canadian money, of course, as you can tell by the way he spells "color". Down here in the Untidy States, they charge me between $2.50 and $3 for Marvel and DC, and $4 or so for an indie title. That's for 40 pages of comic, 10 of which are ads.

But Shonen Jump is $4.95 for over 300 pages.

Of fluff.

In black and white, on cheap newsprint.

What killed comics? The direct sales market, and improved quality standards.

Return with us now to 1980: Teen Titans is the first Direct Sales Only title, shipped to comic book specialty stores and subscribers, but not newstands. It's printed on Baxter paper, a low-acid paper that's whiter and holds ink better than newsprint.

And comics die.

Sorry, I skipped a few steps there.

Comic specialty stores only cater to comic fans -- they don't do a lot to bring in new readers. Some of them actively scare new readers OFF -- Comic Book Guy is an unfortunately accurate depiction.

And, you know, the way they're publishing comics now -- with a trade paperback collection hitting the stands every time a story arc wraps -- high-quality monthly issues aren't NECCESSARY anymore. The people who like the book will buy the TPB -- and, as it stands, MORE people will buy the TPB.

They need cheap monthly newstand books again. They need a Gateway Drug, inexpensive, readily accessible, something to pry the allowance money out of a kid's pocket. Maybe do big anthologies like Shonen Jump, bundling half a dozen traditional monthly titles into a digest. They did it in the '70s, when they wrapped Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Supergirl and Superboy into the big, thick SUPERMAN FAMILY. Archie's main presence in the market these days is in digest-sized books you find in the grocery store.

They need Teh CHeap.

I THINK they could probably swing maybe a hundred, a hundred twenty pages into something about the same price as Shonen Jump -- but in color. If -- if -- they'd just use cheaper paper.

The Big Companies have such a WEALTH of material to draw on -- and what do they do? Parcel it out in big, expensive, hardbound 'Masterworks' collections. I mean, I love my Masterworks of those early Fantastic Four comics, but I think they're missing a bet by not flooding the newsstands with cheapo newsprint reprint books. Both companies used reprints as filler and back-up material in the '70s, and Marvel had several titles dedicated to reruns of "classic" stories throughout the '70s and '80s.

That's FREE MONEY there. Right now, Ultimate This and Marvel Age That are re-telling those early stories with "new" scripts and new art. Pfaugh! Don't "reinvent" the heroes three or four different ways, and then just thrash through the same ol' same ol' -- reprint the originals, and let people see discover them all over again. "Any book you haven't read is a new book."

Again, bundle them in digest-sized books. Or monthly reprint books. Or "Giant-Sized" quarterlies -- though they've got the material to keep big, thick monthlies rolling for ages. Or go back to the '70s model of Super-Sized Books with new material in the front and "classic" material in the back. Value added! Personally, I loved the reprints in the back of '70s comics. When you have a setting as big and expansive and intricate as a superhero universe, with decades of material, getting to see stories printed before you were born is a treat.

Newstands, Newsprint, Reprints. Capture the old market, bring prices down, and use the huge stacks of archives to pull people into the medium and the genre. Make comics an impulse purchase again -- and people will purchase them, impulsively.

Update [12:26]: Well, this is a start, isn't it?
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Happy Valentine's Day -- and so much more!

I know there are a lot of people all grumpy and angsty about this particular holiday.

Well, I'm not going to make it any better, kids.

This is our holiday. This is our romance. It's not Hallmark's, it's not See's.

It's Athelind and Quelonzia Stormdancer's.

Ten years ago today, you see, I recieved a bouncy, happy little e-mail from someone signing herself "Prism Dragon", who'd seen my posts on alt.fan.dragons and decided to say hello.

A couple of weeks later (just before my 31st birthday, in fact), she and I started flirting a bit on a.f.d, and moved the conversation to private e-mail. By this time, she'd taken the name "quelonzia".

Nine years ago today, I arrived in Dallas, Texas, to move in with this wonderful woman. The timing of my arrival, I should note, was prompted by my mother, an incurable romantic. When she heard that the 14th was going to be the first anniversary of our first e-mail, she deliberately timed the bus tickets accordingly.

It's been ten years together, and a hundred more wouldn't be enough.

I love you, Fire of my Heart.
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