Breaking slabbed comics

The new Cartoonist Kayfabe video features a Golden Age comic being cracked from its CGC cases so the guys can read it and show it off to us as that is the point of a comic book.

There will be people outraged as after all there’s a fee to get the comic rated and slabbed, yet as discussed in the video there’s a controversy as you can resubmit a comic and it’ll come back a different rating. I know of dealers who’ve submitted comics which are mint, unread comics barely touched to get a rating back of 8.0. Then they resubmit it and get a 9.8.

Now, this is all because there’s no consistency because it depends who studies your comic on the day. Also the actual really difference between a 9.2 and a 9.8 is sweet fuck all but because of the market being as it is, that potentially will be worth hundreds. If a book is what used to be called mint, you’d expect that to be highly rated but as said, sometimes this comes back in a lower rating than it should be.

Then there’s the fact comics should be read. Had that Marvel Mystery Comics been slabbed forever we’d never get to see how amazing it is inside the book. It’d just be locked away forever just sitting in a box or maybe on a wall or some kind of display.  Comics are an art form designed to be read, so it isn’t like a painting or a baseball card. Locking them away denies what they are.

And finally there’s the fact the entire slabbed comics idea is a Ponzi scheme. People are convinced this is the best way to grade comics, and of course, for only a smallish fee they’ll grade the comic for you, which then you’ll sell to fans for potentially several thousand percent more than the ‘raw’ unslabbed version of the comic. Add into the mix speculators who can drive up the price of a book on a whim, suddenly you can have dealers who’ve overordered driving up prices, which is what happened in the 90’s and is happening today.

As a part-time dealer I won’t touch slabbed books. They’re a pain in the arse to store and to transport, plus my philosophy is people should read the comics they buy, so more slabs being cracked and more comics being read is what we need in this medium. We don’t need to be swallowed alive by pyramid schemes and speculators.

DC Comics break from Diamond Distribution

The big comics news of the week is that DC Comics are breaking all ties with Diamond Comics Distributors in three weeks’ time. My first reaction was optimism as after all Diamond’s monopoly has not been a great thing overall for the industry, but the danger lies with Diamond going down (there’s been rumours of their demise for some time) with no replacement distributor on the horizon.

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Obviously Covid has pushed whatever plans DC had up to now so we have a point where all DC product will now come from two new distributors to comics which suits their new owners at AT & T.  Truth is there’s little money in periodical comics for the big multinational owners of Marvel or DC, barring the creation of new IP who they can exploit to the hilt.

But my early optimism is now vanishing as they could easily switch to a trades only policy, at least for the majority of the line while keeping a few higher profile books going monthly. The logical outcome of that is less risktaking, less new talent, worse books, more big events and a complete stagnation of the superhero genre which, whether we like it or not, still keeps most comic shops going.

At the minute things are still developing. It is worth reading this post by Chuck Rozanski as to where he stands. Also Bleeding Cool is saying UCS (one of the new companies distributing DC) will be distributing old Marvel titles which seems to be old Midtown Comics stock. There’s also a question as to how UK shops will be DC’s titles in future as it’ll cost too much unless you’re putting in a massive order, which may mean a prohibitively high secondary market and the return of the non-distributed title, but it certainly means those lower selling titles people were buying won’t come over here in numbers if at all?

If I was smart and had the capital behind me, I’d be arranging shops into units so they could place more cost-effective orders, or I’d even be talking about opening a central distribution depot if you can get the discount and agreement off DC as they may decide that 10-15% of sales they’ll lose from the UK are worth keeping and open up themselves. I dunno, we shall see but this is not a good time for this to be happening with this much uncertainty just as some reopening of the industry after Covid-19 was happening.

Comic books in the 1990s were awesome

Whenever you read, or more likely see or hear a history of comics on YouTube, social media or whatever laughingly passes for comics journalism, you’ll find at some point some posting in a slightly sneering way about the 1990’s.

For example.

 

 

Now it’s easy to mock Rob Liefeld, and indeed I have many a time in the past because his work is poor (though there was worse than him back in the day, and there’s worse than him making a living even today) , but to write off a decade as the 90’s is often is the sort of lazy, sloppy commentary generally used by comics ‘journalists’, millennial YouTube commentators and people who don’t know about the history of comics.

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Truth is a bit more complex. Yes, the 90’s were a time when bad comics were around in numbers, but it also gave us comics that reached out from our wee comics ghetto and dragged in new readers by the hundreds of thousands. You might not like Todd McFarlane’s Spider-Man or Jim Lee’s X Men, but they brought in a mainly younger audience, many of which did graduate to reading better comics.

But the early 90’s especially featured the peak of DC Comics as a publisher with their Vertigo line producing Sandman, Shade, Swamp Thing, and one of the most underrated 90’s comics, Pete Milligan and Duncan Fegredo’s Enigma.

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Even DC’s superhero line wasn’t bad before it too fell under the influence of early Image Comics, and while Marvel saw them take everything they’d built up since the late 70’s when they nearly went bust and waste it so they actually did go bust in the 90’s, the medium was healthy. The industry had problems but when you’ve got peak Neil Gaiman Sandman, mixed with work from Daniel Clowes, Grant Morrison’s Invisibles, Peter Bagge’s Hate, Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s Hellblazer then their amazing work on Preacher,  Frank Miller’s Sin City, Pete Milligan and Brendan McCarthy’s Rogan Gosh, Seth’s Palookaville, Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s From Hell, and many, many others.

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The Noughties were a good time too. Yes, there were skiploads of landfill superhero comics printed just as there was in the 90’s, and artists bizarrely became popular (including some who were cut out of the Image Comics stereotype)  who had as much talent as Liefeld has. It can be argued though that the latter part of that decade saw the Big Two descend into mediocrity and revamp after revamp in order to push themselves up in sales.

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In fact I’d argue the 90’s were one of those rare golden ages comics as a whole gets that we’re now overdue on. Creators were free to do what they more or less wanted. Genuine creative genius’s hit their stride, while the medium took strides forward over the burning piles of Youngblood #1.  Even Image outgrew its early years and now publishes many of the best mainstream comics out there on the market today.

This is a problem with percieved comics history, the ‘journalism’ it pretends it has, and how people take an accepted vision of the past & buy into it without actually looking into it. The 90’s was a decade of change and upheaval in comics as a whole, but there was also a creative outpouring that still bears fruit today. What the issue is we look at the current comics landscape and see it lacking. Where’s the new blood to match a Dan Clowes or a Garth Ennis coming from today? Sure, there’s some great creators out there but we’re waiting for another golden age but it isn’t coming anytime soon but that’s another blog.

So go back and give the 90’s the love it deserves. There’s probably a whole load of great comics you missed or got put off reading. Give it a try!

The best comics channels on YouTube

Go onto YouTube and you’ll find channels for everything, but comics have been served very, very poorly as a medium there with many channels being unwatchable rubbish with the presenter/s showing little or no knowledge of what they’re talking about, or being of the opinion comics are purely superhero comics from America, or are endlessly bleating on about speculator value or are just plain shite.

Recently though things are improving. Over the last year or two, there have been channels providing some great material or some channels have improved vastly. Now there are thousands of channels out there, with about a dozen or so being ones I check on at least once a month.  Here’s what I think are the top three out there that you should be watching if you’re a fan of the medium.

Starting from number three…

3/ Strange Brain Parts

This channel is a solid channel dealing with mainly non-superheroic comics, but it does cover a wide selection of genres. These are archiving comics which for various reasons have fallen through the cracks in history, and never show up in the usual history of comics you tend to see or read. A good example of this is American Flagg! which should be more acclaimed than it is.

 

2/ Comic Tropes

This channel was initially nothing to write home about. It was talking about mainstream comics in a way which wasn’t especially interesting, but then it started getting better and better so although it talks about superheroes, there’s a joy behind it rather than using comics as a way to get to talking about film or TV adaptations. Plus anyone introducing classic comics to an audience probably unaware of what’s being spoken about is a plus.

As an example here’s the film on the works of Bernie Krigstein.

 

1/ Cartoonist Kayfabe

If there’s a reason why many channels have made the step up then it can be put down purely at the feet of this channel run by creators Jim Rugg and Ed Piskor. Both men aren’t just creators but they have a love of the medium which may sound off to point out but you’d be amazed how many creators don’t especially love the medium, just a genre.

Piskor and Rugg’s tastes vary from proper grown-up work from the likes of Dan Clowes, through to 80’s black and white indies and early Image Comics, so we get a varied mix of what they love which comes over in their videos. Also their work in logging the history of comics via their history of Wizard magazine sounds initially a futile task but seeing it all play out with hindsight you can see just how it manipulated the market for the worst.

Then there’s the lengthy interviews with creators which aren’t just dribbling nonsense, but detailed and informed. Basically if you have any love for comics as entertainment, and as an art form then this is an essential channel. As an example here’s a couple of examples. First up is their interview with Todd McFarlane which should be essential viewing for anyone trying to break into the industry.

Next is their two and a half hour review of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight, which for someone like me who’s read it literally hundreds of times was still informative as it showed me things I’d missed in previous readings.

I’d recommend suscribing to all three channels to keep up to date with their output which is weekly at least with Cartoonist Kayfabe putting out almost daily videos.

Comics to read in the time of Coronavirus

The entire world is locked down, and the comics industry is taking a massive hit. So, of course, are thousands of others, but here’s one which can provide you with something to do while the majority of the planet is in lockdown. Here’s some recommendations to help you pass the weeks ahead.

First up the obvious ones.

Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.

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In short the best superhero comic you will read. Forget the film, the TV series or attempts to integrate it into the DC Universe. This is a book I come back to about once a year and find something new in it, some 35 years after first reading it.

The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller, Klaus Jansen, and Lynn Varley.

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The second best superhero comic you’ll read. Sadly some of the impact has been lost due to the book being mined by film, TV and comics without anything new to say about Batman or comics itself. Only dive into the continuation series if you really are desperate for something to read, though a quick word about the Dark Knight Strikes Again.

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Its clearly a reaction to the grim and gritty style of comics which came out of DKR and Watchmen, but the book changes tone halfway through when Miller took out his rage from witnessing 9/11 happen on his doorstep out on paper. It is more of a document of the time than a good read, so for that take heed before dipping in.

Maus by Art Speigelman

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Part autobiography, biography and historical document mixed with slice of life. Maus is a remarkable, if often hard to read book but it is a comic which should be read. It is one of the best comics ever made.

Judge Dredd: The Cursed Earth by Pat Mills, John Wagner, and various artists.

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You can dip into any of the first 20-25 of the Judge Dredd Case Files (which collects all of Dredd’s stories in order of publication) and find a classic, but this is the story which made Dredd what he is today. This is the one which turned Dredd into the top feature in 2000AD and it’s a cracking story that ties right into the Judge Cal storyline. Wagner and co. were on absolute fire at this time.

Crisis on Infinite Earths by Marv Wolfman and George Perez

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This is the comic that turned DC’s superhero line around and is still the Big Event comic that set the benchmark for the dozens of subsequent events since. This is big, sweeping superheroics and is just huge fun.

Daredevil by Frank Miller

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There’s various editions of Frank Miller’s revolutionary run on Daredevil, but however you get it, these comics redefined superhero comics at a time where they were at a low for experimentation. Miller’s work here casts a shadow today with many a less talented creator trying to ape what Miller did.

Miller did a second run, Born Again, in the mid 80’s with David Mazzucchelli.

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This is my favourite superhero story ever. It’s a genius bit of storytelling from a set of creators at their peak.

Love and Rockets by the Hernandez Brothers

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To say Love and Rockets is influential is underestimating things. Created by Jaimie and Gilbert (with occasional work from Mario) there’s two main strips; Gilbert’s tales of working-class Hispanics and Jaimie’s tales of west coast American punks growing up.  Both strips run more or less in real-time so we’ve seen characters age with new characters coming in. I’d recommend starting at the beginning then spending all the free time you have (which is a hell of a lot right now) working up til today.

Swamp Thing by Alan Moore, Stephen Bissette, John Totleben and others.

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One of those massively influential comics that stands the test of time. Moore brought a talent and style to mainstream comics that’d previously only been hinted at with the likes of Steve Gerber. This is probably Moore’s most easily accessible work and it is gloriously drawn by his co-creators.

Justice League International by Keith Giffen, J.M DeMatteis, and Kevin Maguire.

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Superhero comics have drawn from many other genre but this was really the first time it’d drawn directly from sit-coms and the result was a self-aware, funny superhero comic which still had big fights and superheroic conflict but in a way that didn’t distract from the tone.

A Contract With God by Will Eisner

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Arguably one of the first ‘graphic novels’, but that aside this is one of Eisner’s greatest works as he tells a handful of stories from pre-WW2 New York which may, or may not be semi-autobiographical in places.

So there’s a dozen to keep you going for now. If you do want to buy them please go check out your local comic shop first before Amazon as they need your money more at this time.

The end of the comics industry?

Diamond Comic Distributors closed a few weeks ago effectively meaning no comic shop will get any new American comic until Covid-19 is passed, which right now could be months, if not longer. This has caused a number of shops to say now they’re getting out the business while they can, while many others will struggle on but make no mistake, shops are going to close across the US and UK at an alarming rate in the weeks ahead.

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I’ve seen a number of Tweets from people saying the industry won’t die and the medium will carry on, which is sort of true but the fact is the American industry has never taken a hit like this, ever. Yes, the whole ‘the industry is collapsing’ has been a thing for 70 years since the Wertham witch hunts of the 1950s but this is something which will change it forever.

In my lifetime there’s been a number of crashes, mainly small ones but the two largest are the 90s crash caused by the speculator boom which took out hundreds of shops, and also forced a number of people out of the industry full time, myself included. Then there was the 2008 crash off the back of the financial crash which ended up being short-lived thanks to the current bubble created by things like the Marvel films and ‘geek’ culture being so dominant.

Detective+Comics+#1000painfully glib.

And now we’ve got a generation who’ve known nothing but good times with the comics they want from the Big Two plus the wider dominance in media who may well fly the flag after this crisis is over, but the truth is the American and British industries are going to be drastically changed. People are losing their jobs, and potentially homes because of this so I find some of the debate from some painfully glib. Of course the medium will carry on, and the industry will continue in some shape or form but DC and Marvel will be even less adventurous than they are now.  And yes, I fully expect a Marvel/DC crossover to have a massive cash injection into the industry at some point.

But even Image will be affected. Less cash flow means less support for new books, so again, they’ll be taking fewer risks so they’ll be a more cautious publishing side, while independent retailers could be rare as many only survive on the weekly new comics to get people in. There will be a good side as some of the shysters and conmen who’ve grown out of the ‘geek’ boom will go, so no more conventions calling themselves ‘comic cons’ that have nothing to do with comics.

Whatever comes out the other side will be a horrible period of readjustment which will lead to whatever the new normal is, but we can’t be glib or complacent or the industry won’t get back to anything like what it is now.

The surprising wisdom of Todd McFarlane

If there’s one artist which defined the superstar artist of the early 90’s and of Image Comics especially it is Todd McFarlane. Creator of Spawn, which is now the longest-running independent comic in the USA, McFarlane has been in the industry for nearly 40 and frankly, doesn’t need to be working on a monthly comic anymore but he is because he clearly loves comics.

McFarlane is also deeply controversial, and amazingly to him, still relevant and he’s got a point. There are no superstar artists of his scale in the American comics business right now, which makes his comments on the industry vitally important if you’re a young artist wanting to be the next McFarlane.

I hesitate to call this video on Cartoonist Kayfabe an interview as at times it crosses into being a lecture which is much more interesting. So sit down with a pen and paper, take notes and enjoy…

Don’t pirate comics

Donny Cates is one of Marvel’s ‘hot’ writers, and he really doesn’t want you to pirate his material. This seems a reasonable request, as after all, your average comic creator isn’t raking in the coin unless they’re a Grant Morrison, Geoff Johns or indeed, a Donny Cates. Most creators are doing enough to make a living, but there’s a large number of people pirating work like Cates’s own Cosmic Ghost Rider.

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Now when you pirate something you might think you’re hitting it to Disney, or whatever mega-corporation publisher, but all you’re doing is stealing comics so creators don’t get paid, not to mention the entire chain of producing to selling comics loses money.  Also if you’re pissed off that <insert title here> is canceled, or that wee comic shop you went into is gone, then think of how many times you pirated a comic denying that sale to a title, income to creators and retailers and realise that you helped cause that. That in fact, you’re part of the problem and that you need to take responsibility rather than whining at creators pointing out the problem online.

Digital comics are cheap. There’s plenty of cheap comics out there if you’re near a shop, or a convention. There’s no need to steal from an industry where so many are struggling.

Happy birthday Cartoonist Kayfabe

Comics in the media is a minefield. Comics on YouTube is slightly betteronce one wades through the endless ‘geek’ sites featuring a host desperate to be seen by a major channel, or endless lists of comics, or videos like ‘Why XXXX is REALLY bad!!!’.Sure, there’s some good sites out there (and more of them another time) but comics are mainly served badly by YouTube. Stuff like What Culture does fuck all for the medium, nor do I think those involved with channels like that care about comics.

Then a year ago came along Cartoonist Kayfabe featuring cartoonists Jim Rugg and Ed Piskor. Their first video was about Wizard #1

From these beginnings, the channel has grown into the best comics channel out there anywhere on the internet. A big part of that is down to Piskor and Rugg’s complete enthusiasm and love for the medium of comics, and no, not just the usual suspects but things like early Image and 80’s black and white independents, including from the likes of Aircel.

Because the pair love comics, and because they’re coming to comics from a different perspective, even an auld hand like myself is learning things about how comics are created, marketed, sold and with things like their history of Wizard, I learned a few things about a time in comics which history does badly, and that my brain cells have lost memories of.

In short, if you have a genuine love of comics then you should be watching this channel which you can find here. Go over there now and join in their first birthday celebrations!

2019 Mile High Comics tour

I’ve spoken about Mile High Comics and its owner Chuck Rozanski often on this blog, but really I want to be let loose in his shop, if I can call something that looks like an airplane hanger a mere shop. I could literally spend a month in there and barely touch the edges of what’s there, but I love these videos of owners proud of their shops and what they’re doing with them.

So here’s Chuck showing us all round his ‘shop’ making all of us insanely jealous about what he’s got in stock…