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Me & :D been talkin bout this one a bit lately, wanted to get more input on it...

The eras in comics are very subjective. Here's the most brief fanboy rundown i can put out there:

Golden Age - Creation of Superman, Batman, Will Eisner's Spirit, etc; sequential art begins. Comics never sold as well as they did here, nor were they as cheap - some say they had, ironically, the most acceptance in western society that they ever had here, as well. Many dont know, but non-superhero genres were huge here...westerns, crime/murder mysteries, pulp fiction, etc. Hoky dialogue & such were rampant, but overall, it was a great time for comics.

Silver Age: Many say this was the 50's-60's or so; one major move was Fredric Wertham's "Seduction of the Innocent", a quack psychology book speaking of how comics, in their magical vampires, physics-defying supermen, and questionable morality, were corrupting our youth. This began the sad era of self-censorship, something comics escaped only in recent years.

Other than that, this is basically when the superhero genre took over western society, and not coincidentally, Marvel's core books began here: Fantastic Four, X-Men, Avengers, Spider-Man, etc. Comics' decent from the mainstream began, but the characters became more iconic.

Modern Age - Around the late 70's/80's or so; characters needed more dialouge, more fleshing out. Batman couldnt be smily any more, he had to be grim & gritty in Miller's Dark Knight Returns; superheroes were given a new, more realistic dimenion in Alan Moore's Watchmen - many books ripped off of Dark Knight, not enough took from Watchmen.

Marvel dominated here. Their characters became franchises, not stories, and bad movies & merchandising began. Overexposure killed Punisher, Venom, Wolverine, and all the cool characters this era introduced.

Worse yet (there was fun shit here mind you), the great Marvel artists like McFarlane, Jim Lee, etc and their hot books - McFarlane actually made up to $1,000 per page in Spider-Man for a while - left Marvel after realizing the establishment didnt care for them or their artistic rights. Image began, and so did an era of style over substance.

However, late in this era - mid 90's - we saw imprints like Helix, then Vertigo: a chance for independent writers & artists, or even mainstream ones, to tell a creator-owned tale however they liked; no holding back. Books like Preacher, Sandman, Hellblazer & Transmetropolitan really reminded folks of how much you could do with graphic art.


That's the wrap up. Here's where I'm goin with it: I think we're past the :modern era". Other forms of pop culture are finally truly affecting the bastard child medium that is comics. Think about it: the first really good comic movie, Batman, forced Bats out of his underwear & into an all-black costume, injecting an ounce of realism in an otherwise overproduced book.

But X-Men's film release really did it, for me. The whole thing with tights & masks with characters they didnt belong on was over. "Why should Wolverine hide his face? Why cant Captain America, a soldier, kill? Why does the Hulk suck?" and such...no longer.

Joe Quesada (Marvel's Editor-In-Chief) helped bring about the Marvel Knights imprint, a line (amongst a series of previous failures) that was hell-bent on taking marvel's lesser characters, those that had great writing back in the day, and putting top talent onto them. Kevin Smith's Daredevil run was legendary; Paul Jenkins almost won an Eisner for Inhumans. Quesada gets promoted, and does a lot of good for the field:

-Every hot story arc is made into a trade, both hardcover deluxe and soft.

-Artists & writers are given their due - not Stan Lee.

-Top talent from Vertigo, DC, Image, and even non-comic places such as painters, scriptwriters, etc are recruited to try their hand at mini-series. Brilliant editors like Alex Alonso are hired on, and finally let the top talent do what they want, and we get stories like Wolverine's Origin, Captain America's controversial Truth, Neil Gaiman's 1602, alternative gay books like Rawhide Kid, etc - and theyre quality, not just "break this idea into the mainstream" books.

-Marvel's core characters are revived in the Ultimate line - books anyone can pick up, no backstory, and read Marvel's greats with screenwrites like Bendis at the helm, and some of comics' finest artstis to boot. Sales go through the roof, and continue that way.

-The non-ultimate books grew up, too. X-Force became X-Statix, a Vertigo-esque hit X-Team that's more concerned about its own merchandising and public image than anything else, brought by indie star Mike Allred (Madman). Hulk went from painfully boring beat-em-up to clever Fudgitive stories; Cable became Soldier-X, a politically-motivated soldier trying to change the world in our realistic social climate. X-Men went from convoluted mess to a deep look at social evolution, analgoies of homosexuality & acceptence in our cutlure, and writing the book's never seen before. Punisher went from not around at all to Garth Ennis' hit comedy/action title that's getting a big movie next summer...and so forth.


Much changed. Independent talent got noticed, movie deals are signed right & left, and even with the superhero craze dying down, the point was made to hollywood & others: comics need be taken more seriously, there's quality stuff here.

I'll give X-Men as an example, and you tell me if you dont think where were at is to be considered a new age.


Then -






Now -







(pardon the large images, all i could find) There's a lot less going on in the images, but a lot more in the books. There's a lot less dialogue/inner monologues, but a higher level of writing quailty - and more importantly, an actual attempt to match writers & good respective artits. Even DC's catching on. Those not reading these days are honestly missing out; I can say with all sincereity i dont think comics have been this good in a long, long time.


What does everyone else think?

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Yeah, I gotta agree with you there I.C. Marvel really has been belting out some great books in the last few years (no point in naming off the one's you just did). Although it took me a bit of time to get into New X-men, now I can't believe that at one stage I thought it sucked. Joe Queseda definitly reinvigorated Marvel Comics.

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Glad to hear someone else on board, 2T - my question is, though: do you feel, with alla movies goin on and more importantly, the need for realism/higher quality writing in our books (ie, were usin more science than magic these days as plot devices; convoluted stories are being re-writtin alla time, etc) qualifies this as a new era of comics?

Again, the manga influence is still goin strong, trades seem (to many) to be the way of the future; fuck, even Marvel's trying indie/non-superhero genre books these days, were worlds away from where we were only 5-10 years ago, i think. Is this a different era? If so, you got a better term than the wanky post-modern? Where do ya see it going? I guess im afraid the sales wont match up at some point, the companies will go back to listening to the whiny, "feed us the same shit" fanboys & the whole ultimates, the whole quality, the experiments etc will be looked at as strong, but "bad for business" or some such shit, ya know? That's pessimistic, granted, and sales dont show it goin that way, so im hopin we only improve: if so, the medium cant be that far from mainstream, right?

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Okay - now I getcha (post-modern is aight in my book - just don't tell anyone, my credibility is at stake). I wouldn't just put that all down to the movies, I know this is gonna sound cliched as hell, but we're living in a different day and age. The same shit just don't sit with us anymore (maybe it's we're getting older, but then again the kids who'd pick up a copy of "Avengers" now probably wouldn't put up with the shit that I did back in the day). Either way, what with the internet and a Playstation 2 or X-Box or GameCube in most every house kids don't need comics. I've tried like hell to get my little cousins into comic books and they will read 'em, but ten minutes after they've finished they're back to their gameboys and Matt Murdock, Ultimate Peter Parker and James Hewitt are all but forgotten.


As for the sales, I can't really seeing them improving. The prices for comic books are pretty expensive now, probably a by-product of the poor sales, and they're more than a kid can spend a week (for more than one book anyways).


So yes, the books are getting better, but probably because more than anything the audience is more mature now than ever before. Next time you go to a comic book store look around and you'll see balding guys with "Mage" t-shirts on. A kid is few and far between and I fear that I may outlive the funny-books I've loved and known for all my life may. So I don't really see alot of these new books as experiments (although then again X-Statix...). Since the age of the average reader has probably sky rocketed, the comic companies are probably trying to cater to that audience.


I dunno.....that was probably as unintelligable and inane as one of my Saved by the Sisqo posts...but hey, that's my two cents...

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No, that was exactly what i had in mind, man. Youre right, it cant all be chalked up to the movies (though theyre a far cry better than our 80's efforts); the setting of course affects it. If 9-11 happened before, i cant say we'dve seen anything nearly as tasteful as Strazyinski's black Amazing Spider-Man issue, you know?

Youre also right - as echoed by Bendis, Ellis, so many others - that the next generation is all on the video games. Ours, we did both, i thought, but not so much here. My hope is that by continuing to aim at the older audiences (again, those of us who accepted a lot of crap from, say, Avengers - good example), they can catch some of the next generation as they hit our age. Comics are all over pop culture in their icons as it is...Ellis might be right in that the superhero genre might not actually be what crosses the gap, but im not quite sure what else we can try besides Sandman.

I guess i see the prices rising, and it staying a niche genre, which is ashame, cause many miss out. I am hopeful that, like in Japan & other countries, it'll at least become more socially acceptable. They may never make it into doctor's offices & such, they may never be referred to as "graphic novels" rather than comics, but perhaps readin a trade in public wont get as many looks as it does one day...for now, its at least cool when someone notices & has read it too, especially when i was readin Scud one time - thats fuckin obscure.

"What do you see being the end of comic books?"

"...Home video games.  But ill keep writing until then, anyway."

      - Brian Micheal Bendis

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I read over the first Ultimate X-Men trade last night and the afterword by Bill Jemas was going on about how the whole Ultimate thing was launched as a way to get kids into comic books, what with having no continuity that you'd have to know and the characters being teens again and easier for kids to relate to. I like Ultimate Spider-man and the Ultimates (and I have picked up the odd issue of Ultimate Team-Up, the Mahfood FF one was great - a nice fun book) and although I like it, the weakest title Ultimate X-Men.


I was thinking about this and it got me wondering. Yes the continuity thing makes sense, but the age thing - hmmm. I enjoyed Generation X - well the first half of the run at least and that didn't seem to benifit from the ages of the characters. Then again, I suppose they weren't known charcters previous to the launch (except the few in the Phalanx arc). Maybe that's why the X-Men: Evolution 'toon is doing so good.


The point of that load of shit is - these tactics may work in the short-term but in five or ten years what're they gonna do? Ultimate Ultimate Spider-man? Maybe since there's only gonna be adults reading the book we'll get some classy titles like Max "Peter and Mary-Jane's weekend in Cancun", Max "Girls Go Wild at Xavier's" or Max "The Thing visits Amsterdam".

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  • 4 weeks later...

Hah..those last few sound like good titles. Cant remember where i read it, but someone once pointed out that even our classic franchise characters need revamping from time to time to keep from truly going stale. It's happened plenty of times: John Byrne's "Man of Steel" made Superman less godly; Miller (and many before him) made Batman grittier, etc. For all the "Heroes Reborn" and failed attempts, im extremely happy with the Ultimate line...tho theyre hard pressed to make me think the Fantastic Four is anthing but the "7th Heaven" of Marvel.

Are you reading Ultimate X-Men right now, with Bendis on it? Its like Ulitamte Marvel Team-Up again, its cool shit. Anyway, i suppose relaunches seem short-sighted, but id say that were over 2 years into Ultimate Spider-Man and it can still be soemthin of a viable jump on book, especially in trades. We're about to see the Ultimate U's second crossover (Ultimate Six) and its still not striking me as over-convoluted; its like theyre using the crossovers to tie things together or just have fun, not force you to buy 2 titles. "Ultimate War" was a far cry from "X-Men/Avengers: Bloodties".



Still, some call it "Nu-Marvel", a license that old fanboys complain is "scared of superheroics" because you can actually tell part of a tale with well-written supporting cast (meaning Hulk doesnt have to Hulk out every issue, as long as writer Bruce Jones is going somewhere with the tale), devoid of the old covers with word ballons, fewer letter columns, storyarcs geared towards trades, etc. The only flaw i see with trade-written stories is that in indy or lesser known books, many are less likely to try out new titles at $14.95 for a book rather than an issue. For me, personally, this is combatted by my access to reviews of Eisner-nominees like Blankets & Hawaiian Dick at great sites like The Fourth Rail.com, but that's the route of a consumer who's aware of that kind of thing. I've put out close to $30 for books i havent heard of because of their solid reviews; its a changing market.


However, this nu-marvel (fuck, that's an awful title) isnt without its pressure from other places; many heard how X-Statix had to change up some of its details for "Di another day", the arc brining Princess Di back from the dead, after heat from buckingham palace (PiggyLover, my roomie, comments "...didnt you people win a war a long time back so you wouldnt have to listen to these wanks?). Looking around, i even found this:


The Betrayl of Captain America


...so, here's an article on what appears to be a federally vested/backed site, claiming to be about the defense of "democracies", calling for the outright censorship of Marvel's new, ambitous, far more interesting tales, because of the fact they actually dare to question/undermine policies of the current administration. It's a good thing they didnt read 411; who knows what they'd make of that.

I wrote in to this site for justification of backing this article & havent hard back yet. However, at the end of the article, there's addresses for Marvel, and even an email contact for the investor behind them and their relatoins firm. I wrote a short letter applauding their backing of a forward-moving artistic property, and as a sole consumer, reminded them that by letting Joe Quesada, Bill Jemas & Alex Alonso do thier job and getting new, innovative (and sometimes controversial) stories out there, by employing painters, script writers, etc and taking a chance with new people, theyre only opening the door to fresh new movie deals, which is what they wanna hear. I really congratulated them for backing 411, one of the year's most amazing books in my opinion, even if their backing was only financial. Anyone actually reading this far into the article: I encourage you to also make your views known, let them know you back Marvel in its current edeavors, rather than letting this vocal minority scare them back into more "conservative" stories, like Cap-Wolf, US Agent, and such. Me, im happy the books were good enough that people who obviously dont even care for the medium were reading them.

The direct email to those investors was mvl@jcir.com (though I havent heard back yet); the adress was:


Marvel Entertainment Group, inc

10 East 40th Street

New York, NY 10016

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  • 2 years later...

After reading this thread today I think I may go purchase a few graphic novels this weekend ( I don't think I can wait for an issue by issue story to unfold like I did as a young teenager, I read too many novels these days).


Anyways, I read this in the NY Times today. It should make you guys feel better since you two were worried about sales and such.


February 13, 2006

Publishers Find Growth in Comics


After years of lagging growth, book publishers are in a mood to try just about anything. That is why top executives from several of the biggest New York publishing companies headed west late last year.


Their destination was the Los Angeles office of Tokyopop, this country's largest publisher of English-language manga, the Japanese book-length comics larded with doe-eyed characters with chiseled good looks and hard bodies.


Like many small- to medium-size publishers, Tokyopop farms out its distribution: the process of moving its books from printing plants to warehouses, gathering orders from big chain stores and smaller independent booksellers, packing the books into boxes for shipment, and delivering them and collecting payment.


For the big publishing companies that provide distribution services — companies like Random House, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, the Time Warner Book Group and Holtzbrinck — Tokyopop was not just another potential customer, however. Graphic novels generally, and manga specifically, are among the few rapidly growing areas of the publishing business, so securing the right to distribute Tokyopop's books was a hotly contested prize.


The prize went to none of those giants, however, but rather to the Perseus Books Group, a medium-size publisher whose imprints include Basic Books, PublicAffairs and Da Capo Press. That is notable because Perseus entered the distribution field just last year through the purchase of one of the largest independents, Client Distribution Services.


David Steinberger, the chief executive of Perseus, called distribution "a big battleground" in the industry. "Publishers are fighting over distribution clients the way they used to fight over authors," he said.


One reason is that it is one of the few areas of the publishing business that enjoys economies of scale. "If you put two publishing imprints together, you might have twice the number of editors but you can still only get them to produce two times the number of books," Mr. Steinberger said. Adding distribution clients, however, raises revenues but barely affects costs. "It is a low-risk, low-investment way to help the bottom line," he said.


While Client Distribution Services (or C.D.S., as the distributor is known), had provided much of the same work for Tokyopop since 2002, Tokyopop officials said it was unlikely that the company would have stayed with C.D.S. if not for its new owner.


"We are 8 to 10 times the size we were then," Mike Kiley, the publisher of Tokyopop, said in an interview. "So we had to become free agents. We looked at a lot of other options that were very much bigger than Perseus, but we needed someone who both had the technology and systems we needed to continue to grow, and who fit our business. We're radical, crazy, teen-pop-culture guys who do a lot of wild stuff and who have to turn on a dime."


After being sold mainly in comic-book shops, manga now has shelf space dedicated to it in most large bookstores, including all the national chains. The genre has become so popular that last month, a syndicated manga strip began running in the Sunday funny pages of about 30 American newspapers.


But Tokyopop is in stiff competition with an increasingly crowded field of manga producers, including VIZ Media, a San Francisco company that is owned by three of Japan's largest manga creators, and Del Rey, an imprint of Random House, which licenses and imports Japanese manga to the United States.


Tokyopop is looking to push manga even further into the mainstream, hoping to gain inroads into mass merchandisers, grocery stores, gift and specialty stores and other places where popular fiction and nonfiction books are sold. As such, Tokyopop says it believes the battle for manga superiority is likely to be as much a fight among distributors as it is a struggle for the best cartoonists, characters and storylines.


"With their new infrastructure," said Stuart J. Levy, Tokyopop's chief executive, Perseus "will be instrumental in helping manga tip beyond the niche market into the mainstream."


The difference that a distributor can make for a small publisher these days goes far beyond saving a few pennies per box of books on shipping charges. "Sales and distribution in the 21st century is all about systems," Mr. Kiley said.


Not so long ago, the world of publishing was one where the people who made the books did not know where or how many copies they were selling until months after a book showed up in stores. It was only when stores reordered a certain book or, more likely, when it shipped back unsold copies 6 to 12 months after they went on sale, that a publisher got a true count on how many of a given volume had been taken home by consumers.


Books are still sold on a consignment, or fully returnable basis, meaning that most retailers are free to return as many copies as they want for a full refund to the publisher. (One exception is specialty stores, to which publishers often sell small quantities of selected titles without the return option.)


What is different now is that most big publishers get direct point-of-sale information fed to them each day by the large chain stores, and they rely on third-party providers, like Nielsen BookScan, to track sales at independent stores.


It is only the largest publishers that have been able to afford to make the investments in the systems that allow that close tracking, said Jack Romanos, the president and chief executive of Simon & Schuster. "If you're smart, you have extra capacity" in warehouses, sales forces and accounting systems, he said, "and it's just good sense to lay off some of the cost of that on third-party distribution services."


Nearly every large publisher has been ramping up its distribution business. Simon & Schuster, which is owned by Viacom, recently reorganized its distribution services unit. One of its first big deals under the expanded system was announced last month, when VIZ Media, the manga company whose books have been shipped by Simon & Schuster since June 2004, said it was adding Simon & Schuster's sales capabilities to the agreement as well, also with the intent of pushing manga into new types of retail outlets.


Random House got out of the distribution business altogether shortly after Bertelsmann, the German media company, bought the publisher in 1998. It even sold one of its three book warehouses, the one located in Jackson, Tenn., to a group of managers who started C.D.S., now owned by Perseus.


Andrew Weber, a senior vice president for operations and technology at Random House, said that the company got back into distribution in 2003 after investing close to $100 million in new infrastructure and systems. Only three years later, Random House is expecting to collect $150 million in revenues from the business this year, Mr. Weber said. Random House's distribution arm now serves 15 outside publishers, double the number from just over a year ago.


"We are in a business that is largely acknowledged to be growing very slowly," Mr. Weber said. "That is why a lot of new companies are paying attention to distribution. In this business, they are hungry for growth."

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  • 3 weeks later...

man, that's a hard one to top...for another great, cold-war/post-cold war piece with layers of social commentary and tights, the default answer is Watchmen by Alan Moore, you cant go wrong with that one. It's a self-contained story, all you need right there. That one's taught in some English 1102 classes.

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Depends on the book - he's usually a very strong writer across the board, but i dont think ive ever read anything quite up to par with his Sandman, where he (at times) weaves mythologies from almost every culture into one he created about the Endless, embodiements of human emotion.

I assure you, its way more interesting (and deeper) than im selling it here, but i think its his finest work.

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