Friday, March 4, 2011

Crisis of infinite comics

DnD_Issue_1Recently a friend of mine asked me why I have not reviewed the new Dungeons & Dragons comic series IDW is publishing.  It makes sense that he would ask; after all I have spent a lot of time on this blog reviewing old Forgotten Realms comics from the eighties.  Reviewing the new series seems to be right up my alley.

The answer is simple enough though: I haven’t read any of the new Dungeons & Dragons comics.

Don’t take this to be any judgment against the new series.  In fact, I am looking forward to reading them at some point, most likely when they are inevitably collected in a trade paperback.  Rather, the new Dungeons & Dragons comic book is simply a victim of bad timing.  After nearly thirty years of  collecting comic books on a monthly basis, I have finally quit.

I suppose I have been quitting monthly comic books for years.  There was a point in my teenage years where I was easily collecting more than thirty comic books a month.  When I ended my monthly purchases the number of comics series I collected regularly was less than ten.

There isn’t just one reason behind me quitting.  It is fair to say price is a factor.  When I started collecting the average comic book cost around $0.65.  Now comics books cost $2.99 or $3.99 an issue.  Annuals and special issues can cost even more.

I understand the reasons behind the price increases over the years.  The biggest culprit has to do with the economies of scale.  Few comic books crack 100,000 issues sold a month nowadays.  Several month recently have had no comics sell over 100,000 issues.  With so few comics being sold, the price per issue has to go up in order to make a profit.

$3.99 still seems like an awful lot of money for a mere twenty-two pages of entertainment.

An even bigger factor leading to my quitting monthly comics is that month to month is no longer the optimal way to read comic books!  Back when I first started reading comics, “done-in-one” was still the primary format.  Even though there were continuing plot threads, the default assumption was that each issue of a comic book should tell a complete story. 

Most comic books nowadays are written with the inevitable trade paperback in mind.  The average storyline lasts about six issues, meaning any individual comic book only tells a fraction of a story.

So the optimal way of reading a comic book nowadays is waiting to read it in trade paperback form.  You get a full story, without having to wait a month between each chapter.  Even better, the cost per issue is inevitably less than buying the comic off the stands.  The only downside is that you have to wait a few months until the trade paperback is released.

Waiting simply isn’t as big a problem for me as it used to be.  It may even be an advantage.  While I might have a few plot twists spoiled while reading my favorite comics blogs, it also gives me a chance to see what the reviews look like.  After reading blog after blog complain about Superman: Grounded, I will definitely give it a pass.  On the other hand, it is unlikely I would have found the budget to buy an unknown quantity like Morning Glories on a monthly basis.  Having read so many glowing reviews of the series now though, picking up the trade paperback seems like a no brainer.

I do worry about the future of the comics industry.  I probably bought monthly comics for far longer than I should have out of some misguided sense that I could single-handedly hold back the tides of change sweeping though the comic book industry.  In the end  though, there is nothing I can do.  The comic book industry has to either adapt or die. 

I hope it adapts.


Kinocetus said...

iPads, Kindles and the like will spell the death of print in much the same way online sales have gobbled up retail market share. Faster, cheaper, more efficient and generally the same if not better product.

Comic books can be transformed by the digital age and perhaps see a revival so long as the quality is there. We've talked about this before and I share your fears. I'm not the avid reader you are, but I do enjoy creativity in all its forms and would hate to see this entertainment avenue dumbed down like so many others have been.

Its all cyclical if you think about it. Printed books used to be a big deal and only the rich had them. The industrial age with its high speed printing capabilities made books affordable. Now computerized versions of books will make the printed copies seem antiquated, even quaint, and as such will become more a splurge item than the casual purchase.

Perhaps the comic book industry to do some advertising to parents... On one side of the of the picture or screen a child reading a comic book with his/her friends, on the other side a child playing video games. The caption on top, "Which would you rather have your child doing?!", or above the comic book readers a caption, "Reading, imagination, creativity", the caption above the video game, "Addiction, obsession, aggression" Something like that...