Ultraist Studios Blog Journal thoughts, musings and other rambling…

May 10, 2007

Ripped From the Cerebus Yahoo! Boards

Filed under: Essays,Ramblings — M Kitchen @ 10:18 am

The following conversation has been ripped from the Cerebus Yahoo! Message Board.

Re: Dave Sim’s blogandmail #225 (April 24th, 2007)

— In cerebus@yahoogroups.com, “Stanley Lieber” wrote:

I think the advent of higher and higher quality print-on-demand is
going to alleviate a lot of the pressures on small publishers. The
profit margin is slashed (print-on-demand is expensive [especially in
large quantities, for which there is seldom a significant discount]
than traditional printing), but it is possible to publish even a
full-color book with essentially no financial risk. If you only get
orders for five copies, then you only print five copies. Publishers
will be able to set thresholds for when orders for a book warrant
going to a traditional printer.

-sl

— In cerebus@yahoogroups.com, “mcettei” wrote:

>So it seems to me a nice long comic book (not TOO
> long, but longer than the average Marvel comic) at a reasonable price
> (the same as the average Marvel comic or only fractionally more
> expensive) strikes the right competitive note: more reading value for
> the money, a self-contained package so there’s no chance of future
> disappointment and (hopefully) those two offsetting a lack of colour.
>

This is the most interesting series of blogs yet, looking at the indy
publishers fate in today’s comic world. Why aren’t more doing this
analysis? (I guess that AiT and Fantagraphics have done it) Most of
the indy books I order are very late and overpriced, similar to a
Marvel product, but a buck more. The books that I get excited about
still are the one that are infrequent, but a good value, and fairly
self-contained (Age of Bronze, Eightball, Optic Nerve, Angry youth
comix). And I really don’t understand why an indy publisher, or even
Image would do super-heroes anymore (Invincible being the exception).
Marvel and DC are going to do it better!

Oh, and you all should be reading “The Boys”.

–Matt

— In cerebus@yahoogroups.com, “Mike Kitchen”wrote:

The problem is that you really can’t make a living doing these
comics… not to start with anyway. I’d love to be doing SPY GUY full
time but… well… read CRIC#2 for more details : )

And while print on demand is great for getting a comic OUT there, I
can’t imagine a print on demand book ever making it BIG! Because half
the trick to self-publishing is (once you’ve actually completed a
book) is to get enough copies out there in circulation to make people
aware of it, and get enough readers interested and hooked to buy
enough comics to replace the pay of a “real” job.

And while you’ve got to work a “real” job, there is no way to get a
comic out frequently.

And if you resort to print on demand, you are never going to generate
a large enough audience to fuel a full-time career making comics.

I guess for your first crappy comics, print on demand is alright. But
the idea has to be to graduate to a full print run before expecting
any real success I think.

As for Superheroes… if you’ve got a great story to tell, why NOT
self-publish your own superhero comic? Sure, you’re up against a lot,
but that’s true of all media in all genres. Gotta just go for it.

That’s my take on it, as someone currently in the trenches.

— In cerebus@yahoogroups.com, “Stanley Lieber” wrote:

I think this is where the historical model of the direct market has
come crashing into the modern reality of the Internet as the primary
mass medium that has swallowed everything else. People don’t find out
about new books at their comic shop anymore; they read blogs and
complain on message boards and sometimes even know creators online
before even seeing their books.

The economics of publishing is changing. It has already become a fine
line between digital content and print content (many printers require
you to send your work as a .pdf file). As viewing technology continues
to advance (Fujitsu announced flexible, color, digital paper in 2005),
the line will get thinner.

If we want to believe that the Internet is going away, and that
digital content/digital distribution is faddish, I’m sure we can
continue complaining about same on our blogs until the cows come home. πŸ™‚

Meanwhile, show me the successful book that doesn’t have an online
component of some sort. Even canceled books have message boards, these
days.

-sl

— In cerebus@yahoogroups.com, “Mike Kitchen”wrote:

I’ve got so much to say on the subject that for now (since it’s late)
I’ll keep it short and say that this is exactly the reason why I think
that if you ARE to be successful in this biz (which at the moment I’m
not – but am working on it) that you have to deal with hard real world
items. I mean, these days EVERYONE can publish an online comic, but
how far will THAT get you? Even if your primary presence is online
(PvP comes to mind) you still have to focus your money making profit
on real world goods, since electronic media can be duplicated
infinitely and effortlessly. Despite what Scott McCloud says,
pay-per-click is never going to work. So what our job then becomes,
as aspiring comic creators, is to manufacture an artifact that is
WORTH something. So we can try to make a living off our craft. That
artifact is our paper comics (or related merchandise). The stuff that
is physical. That is limited. That can be destroyed. That takes
some effort to hunt down. That can become COLLECTORS ITEMS!

Otherwise, why not just download everything via BitTorrent?

Well, that’s a portion of my thoughts.
Maybe I can type some more tomorrow at the “Clark Kent” day job.

There’s lots more to say…

— In cerebus@yahoogroups.com, “Jeff Tundis” wrote:

I haven’t seen anything on that digital paper, but I remember you
mentioning it before and sure sounds cool:)

I think you’re right — the internet is here to stay (despite the dot
com crash years ago) at least as a promotional tool. It seems to me
to be an interesting catch 22. There is a push to create work that
will not appeal to collectors, and yet the collectors may be the ones
to keep the medium alive. The desire to own a physical book, a
tangible “investment” if you will (even though, I know, the word
makes people wretch).

That being said, I would probably be inclined to buy a trade on CD or
DVD because there’s no real collector incentive — it’s just
the “reading copy” if you will. Well, once I get a laptop, anyway;)

-Jeff

— In cerebus@yahoogroups.com, “Mike Kitchen”wrote:

See, this is the thing I just can’t relate to. I mean, I’ve
downloaded comics and read them on the computer, but I’ve hated every
moment of it, compared to listening to music and watching movies on a
computer, which I think is brilliant.

I am curious what the general concensous is on this. Do people enjoy
reading comics on the computer? I don’t mind reading daily comics on
the computer screen, but once they get past a couple pages in length
my eyes start bleeding, and my head starts pounding something fierce.
It is NOT an enjoyable experience for me. For this sort of thing, I
can only go on my own personal preference, and then make the
assumption that if I think this way, then a good number of others out
there must be thinking the same way as well. It’s hardly science, but
it’s the best barometer that I’ve got at the moment.

Maybe I should make a Yahoo! poll.

As for collectors; after years of thinking about this stuff, I think
that people who enjoy the work enough to want to own legitimate hard
copy “first print” “collectors item!” editions of the work and keep
them as artifacts are the ones who we (as creators) should be looking
to for our primary revenue stream. They are ultimately the ones that
will fund our work. Casual readers may be good for a one time cash
infusion, but for any sort of longevity, I think is is the collector
that has to be catered to, who needs to have an interest in your work.
Think of it this way: The people that see a value in what you are
doing are the ones that you should primarily be interested in as a
creator, as opposed to those who see NO value in what you are doing.

Those that see value in you and your work, are the ones that will buy
a copy of the work, or buy a limited edition print, or t-shirt, or
start a Yahoo! Group to discuss your work in their leisure time. They
will keep the work going.

And when I say collectors, I don’t mean the “collectors” that buy 75
polybagged Death of Superman because the TV told them they were going
to go up in value. No, I consider these people an entirely different
beast… (investors may be a better descriptive word). In this sense
I view collectors as people who like the work enough that they want to
own the work. The complete work. Or at the very least, the few
issues of the work that they actually enjoyed.

Digital copies and web comics may be good as a promotional marketing
tool (get 1 million people reading your comics on the internet, and
I’ll be you can get 10,000 of them to buy a hard copy, or a t-shirt).
But you really need to be aware that it is the selling of something,
ANYTHING, that is the only way to make a career out of this crazy trade.

Otherwise you’re just creating your art for free.
Which is fine and all, but good luck keeping a monthly schedule and
paying your mortgage in the process.

Some more of my thoughts.
— In cerebus@yahoogroups.com, “Larry” wrote:

What you seem to be saying is that you (and by
extension, “collectors”) buy comics because you think they *are*
worth something (intrinsically). Whereas speculators buy them
because they hope the comics are “worth something” to someone *else*.

First of all, as a collector, I totally agree with both of you.

Secondly, without collectors, speculators might as well be trading
swamp land in Florida. Speculation is a ponzi scheme unless there
are real collectors supporting the whole structure.

– Larry Hart

— In cerebus@yahoogroups.com, “Mike Kitchen” wrote:

That’s a really good point. And I think (say in the case of Death of
Superman) that speculators (that’s the word I was thinking of – though
investor seems to fit the bill as well) ARE trading swamp land in
Florida. I think you’ll find in comics (as well as just about any
other field of investment) there are A LOT of ponzi schemes going around.

Time will tell what artifacts hold any real value. Which kind of ties
this all back to Dave’s original Blog and Mail points. If you have
3000 people chasing 300 comics, of course the value of those 300
comics will go up due to supply and demand. Comics like Cerebus #1
ARE going to become valuable artifacts because people see value in the
work of Cerebus.

If the entire world decided that there was no value in Cerebus, you
would see those CGC graded Cerebus comics drop in value quicker than
the worst junk bond. But at the moment, that isn’t the case.

If the audience thinks that a work is worth something, then, as an
artist, you’ve won half the battle. And no amount of pdfs or
downloading or counterfeits or rip-offs is going to change that.

Or at least, that’s my take on all of this.
— In cerebus@yahoogroups.com, “Matt Dow” wrote:

Ah, but therein lies the rub.

CGC is for the speculators. What collector wants a mint comic that’s
worthless the second you try to read the damn thing?

Matt

— In cerebus@yahoogroups.com, “Mike Kitchen” wrote:

That’s another really good point.
I really don’t know much about CGC comics. CAN you crack the thing
open and read it? Sure it may no longer be sealed (and hence – lose
“value”)… but is it even possible to do that? If you can crack it
open, wouldn’t it then be worth what a regular 9.4 (or whatever)
graded comic would be worth (minus the CGC slabbing)? I’m ignorant
about the whole CGC thing. That said, I can understand a collector,
say, wanting to have a reading copy of their favorite comic, and
wanting to have a MINT copy to complement it as a trophy.

But yeah. I do think comics, for both readers and collectors, are
first and foremost meant to be read.

And yeah. A service like CGC grading is only of use to both
collectors and speculators/investors, and of little to NO use to
readers (unless the things CAN be cracked open and read).

— In cerebus@yahoogroups.com, “Larry” wrote:

> > Speculation is a ponzi scheme unless there
> > are real collectors supporting the whole structure.
> >
> > – Larry Hart
> >
>
> That’s a really good point.
> And I think (say in the case of Death of
> Superman) that speculators
> (that’s the word I was thinking of – though
> investor seems to fit the bill as well) ARE trading swamp land in
> Florida.

I once proposed that sealed bags of Superman #75 should be treated
as currency. And that there didn’t have to acutally be real comics
inside the bag–just authentic-looking covers over the correct
weight of pages.

> I think you’ll find in comics (as well as just about any
> other field of investment)
> there are A LOT of ponzi schemes going around.
>

That seems espeically true now that stocks don’t tend to pay
dividends. Their entire value is (apparently) that someone else
might pay you *more* money for them in the future. That seems like
a house of cards waiting to tumble.

> Time will tell what artifacts hold any real value.
> Which kind of ties
> this all back to Dave’s original Blog and Mail points. If you have
> 3000 people chasing 300 comics, of course the value of those 300
> comics will go up due to supply and demand.

But if you had 3000 comics for those 3000 people, wouldn’t you be
able to command *more* money altogether from them. Not more per
issue (duh!) but more total money getting 3000 sales than 300 sales?

If the answer is “no” only because the 300 people are going to bid
the price up beyond what they reasonably would pay for the book,
then you’re still describing a flawed system of value (though one it
is possible to play for personal gain at others’ expense).

> Comics like Cerebus #1
> ARE going to become valuable artifacts because
> people see value in the
> work of Cerebus.
>
> If the entire world decided that there was no value in Cerebus, you
> would see those CGC graded Cerebus comics drop in value quicker
> than the worst junk bond.
> But at the moment, that isn’t the case.
>
> If the audience thinks that a work is worth something, then, as an
> artist, you’ve won half the battle. And no amount of pdfs or
> downloading or counterfeits or rip-offs is going to change that.
>
> Or at least, that’s my take on all of this.
>

In this degraded feminist age, I feel the need to point out that
you’ve made an unintentional double-entendre. “If an audience
thinks that a work is worth something” can be taken two ways. The
most common meaning these days is going to be “If an audience thinks
they can turn the book around for a profit”, which is the speculator
ponzi scheme. I’m sure you meant “If an audience thinks that the
work is worth paying for in order to own it”, which is the only
thing that makes others’ speculation possible in the first place.

In that latter sense of “think it’s worth something”, perception
becomes reality, because the thing really is worth what you think it
is worth–to you, anyway. When you, as a creator, make something
that causes others to value it–something people will willingly work
for or trade value for, then you have created real wealth.

– Larry Hart

— In cerebus@yahoogroups.com, “Mike Kitchen” wrote:

That actually comes from the research I did for my latest comic

SPUD & HARRY #1
Now Available At The ULTRAIST STUDIOS STORE !
Sure to become a collectors item!
Get them now while supplies last!

Ahem… what was I saying? Right…
When researching banks and currency, I realized that our whole economic system at the moment is based on fiat currency, which is paper (or electronic) currency backed by nothing! It used to be backed by gold. But it isn’t anymore, and hasn’t been for a while. Money only takes on value because we assume that it can be traded for something of value whenever we want to. But when it comes down to it, it’s intrinsic value is actually worthless. What IS of value is our labor (which we trade FOR money).

In the case of comics, when you really get down to it, they are just newsprint with ink on it. As worthless as the money we use to purchase them. HOWEVER, since we perceive them as being valuable as a work of art, or as a piece of entertainment, as a rare artifact, or even as an investment – that is what gives them their value. At that point it becomes a matter of supply and demand. If A LOT of people believe that these newsprint pamphlets with ink on them are worth something, and the ratio of people who hold this belief is greater than the number of newsprint pamphlets in existence, then of course the monetary value that these comics are perceived to have is going to go up.

So “If an audience thinks they can turn the book around for a profit” or “If an audience thinks that the work is worth paying for in order to own it” are (at least in my opinion) equally valid statements. The only real difference is the motivation for purchasing the work in the first place, but does not (I think) change the concept of “thinking a work is worth something”. In both cases the idea is “I think this work has value”.

Same can be said for money (or any other material possessions).

The BIG PICTURE to all of this is that once we’re dead none of this material stuff really matters anyway… which becomes a whole other discussion.

— In cerebus@yahoogroups.com, “Larry” wrote:
> So “If an audience thinks they can turn the book
> around for a profit” or
> “If an audience thinks that the work
> is worth paying for in order to own
> it” are (at least in my opinion) equally valid statements.
> The only
> real difference is the motivation for purchasing the
> work in the first
> place, but does not (I think) change the concept of
> “thinking a work is
> worth something”. In both cases the idea is
> “I think this work has value”.
>
> Same can be said for money (or any other material possessions).
>

You’re right as far as that goes, of course.

The distinction I was making was that “I think I can turn this
around for a profit” is more ephermeral. Stocks, properties,
currencies, etc can suddenly *lose* their value (in that sense) and
it’s kind of like a game of hot potato where the holder of the
commodity in question who didn’t unload it quickly enough loses.

Whereas “I think this thing is worth owning”, however subjective, is
going to last. It’s like Howard Roark explains to Gail Wynand
in “The Fountainhead”–once you give to a creation your “Yes!”, you
don’t take it back.

True, you can have an experience like Steve’s with “X-Men” where you
decide something you felt had value no longer has that value to
you. I’m not saying you can’t change your mind, and hence your
evaluation. But that evaluation isn’t going to get changed *for*
you–out from under you–by someone else’s whims.

That’s what I see as the difference between value as defined by
collectors vs value as defined by speculators.

>
> The BIG PICTURE to all of this is that once we’re dead none of this
> material stuff really matters anyway… which becomes a whole other
> discussion.
>

Kurt Vonnegut and Ayn Rand are doubtless holding many such
discussions about that sort of thing. πŸ˜‰

– Larry Hart—

In cerebus@yahoogroups.com, “Mike Kitchen”wrote:

Interesting that THAT distinction is what I use to decide WHERE I am
going to purchase my comic books. There are a lot of shops around
that do come across as being ephemeral “like a game of hot potato
where the holder of the commodity in question who didn’t unload it
quickly enough loses.” Those are the shops where the new comics are
already bagged and boarded, are for sale above cover price, and the
sketch and foil covers are prominently featured all over their walls
(at insanely inflated prices).

Then there are the other comic shops where you can tell “I think this
thing is worth owning” is going through the shop owners minds. They
are the shops that allow reading, and have a shelf of “favorites” and
stock indy books, and (here in Canada) have the comics for sale at US
prices (when the value of the dollar allows for it).

So yeah. I see that distinction.

It really does all come down to what you, as an individual, believe
has worth. Readers, Collectors, and Speculator/Investors are all
going believe different things.

19 Comments »

  1. That’s a good discussion. I agree with what you were saying, so there isn’t much left on my part.

    Comment by Blair Kitchen — May 10, 2007 @ 10:50 am

  2. Did anyone change your mind in any aspect?

    Comment by Matt Campbell — May 10, 2007 @ 12:11 pm

  3. Ummm. No, not really. Though it did make me understand their thought process. I think the internet scare and webcomic enthusiasts are largely fueled by what is happening in the music and film industry. But I think THAT crisis has little if nothing to do with comics. It also had me think more about how investors/speculators greed helps to drive the comic-book market, and how the reader “advocates” good intentions help to suppress it (to a certain degree). That was an interesting angle that I haven’t had to put into words before.

    What was your take-away from that discussion?

    Comment by M Kitchen — May 10, 2007 @ 1:00 pm

  4. I am in the middle.

    Both are good marketing tools and it’s not wise to put one in front of the other.

    I’m reminded of the Colonol, who put Elvis in dozens of horrible movies. Alone they were failures, but he knew they were a perfect promotion for his music.

    Likewise, Marvel was at the doorstep to chapter 11 till they realized movies was the product and comics were the promotion.

    Comment by Matt Campbell — May 10, 2007 @ 1:59 pm

  5. I agree that the internet is a very powerful marketing tool, but I think it works best when what you are marketing is an actual book that you can hold in your hands (in regards to comics and books). Although in the same sense, I don’t think the internet will replace movie theatres, or live concerts. (CD’s are different, and I do think they could be replaced).
    When I read a book, I like to go to a comfortable place to read like a cozy couch or a bed. Computers are sterile and ruin any mood that could be created when reading. Watching movies is the same thing.
    I guess the best solution would be to not put all of your eggs in one basket, and to make online comics available to those who would rather just download it, and to have your physical comics available for those who would rather own and read a physical comic. But if you were to only have one, I’d take the physical comic over PDF’s any day. (And I think most people would too).

    Comment by Blair Kitchen — May 10, 2007 @ 2:15 pm

  6. As for marketing tools? Yeah, I think they’re both good marketing tools. I think that webcomics, and paper comics, and bad Elvis movies are all good marketing tools. I think bitTorrent is a good marketing tool. I think photocopies are good marketing tools.

    Here is the difference as I see it: I think webcomics (in and of themselves) are a bad source of income because I see no value in something that can be reproduced infinitely and effortlessly. I think paper comics (that you self publish and own the rights to) are a good long term source of income. I think that movies and merchandise (that inevitably requires you to sign away your rights and control) are a good short term jackpot, but result in the risk of destroying your intellectual property in the process.

    Marvel is a bad example. Because they made A LOT of bad choices in the 90’s for short term profits. They were not tuned into reality, and they suffered for it.

    I agree with what you are saying Blair, so there isn’t much left on my part either.

    Comment by M Kitchen — May 10, 2007 @ 2:36 pm

  7. The only thing I’d add is i hate going to the theatres.

    Comment by Matt Campbell — May 10, 2007 @ 2:38 pm

  8. Oh yeah? I love it! I only wish there were films worth seeing… (which is why I haven’t been to a theater in years).

    Comment by M Kitchen — May 10, 2007 @ 3:03 pm

  9. A movie theatre experience is like going to a concert. It’s a different experience than listening to an album, or watching a movie in your living room. For the full experience, a movie theatre is the way to go. But yeah, unless the movie is any good, then it’s a crappy experience.

    As for Marvel, it amazes me that they are so successful. I think the only thing that keeps them going is nostalgia. People remember a few good runs on Spider-man, and they just believe that any Spider-man thing is good without actually reading any of the garbage that is out there. The ratio of good to bad product on all of those popular super heroes has got to be 1 to 1000. Strength in numbers. They confuse you with the sheer amount of stuff they are pumping out. When you are self publishing, you have to make each story good. You can’t afford to coast off of one or two successful arcs.

    Comment by Blair Kitchen — May 10, 2007 @ 4:28 pm

  10. One more point:

    You shouldn’t limit the comparison between “digital” and “paper” to the technology that is available today. Part of my point was that the “Internet” is increasingly not separated from these other areas of our experience. In the real world, some televisions, kitchen equipment, and even clothing are now connected to the Internet. With the advent of RFID, wifi and IPV6, we really are facing the “Internet of things,” in which all objects are networked.

    In addition, consider the improvements in interface technology itself. It is not going to be that long before “digital paper” is virtually indistinguishable, physically, from pulp paper. It’s a question of when, not if. The only real argument that can be sustained against digital content, once the interfaces meet and exceed the traditional versions, is one that claims the digital aspects of technology will go away completely. Otherwise, it’s only a matter of time before all content is absorbed into the Internet, and is available via superior interfaces. For example, kids today are not going to have the same attachment to pulp that we do; and that’s even just appraising their relationship with the clunky monitors and keyboards we have right now. In ten years time when I’m reading Byrne FANTASTIC FOURs from a piece of networked digital paper I can roll up and stick in my back pocket, it’s going to be hard to sell me on going upstairs and digging individual issues out of a longbox.

    For the time being, no, I don’t think digital comics are going to replace pulp paper comics.* But that perspective is frankly not sustainable.

    (* Even though I personally read most of my comics on my tablet PC, which allows me to see the pages at full size.)

    Comment by Stanley Lieber — May 11, 2007 @ 4:55 am

  11. Blair: What you said about marvel saturating the market was really profound. It really explained why i walk into comic book stores and walk right out. Even though i say, “Ok THIS time I’m going to pick something up no matter what!” I thought it was me. Anyway, that really made think: Is that why i can never find anything on TV?

    Comment by Matt Campbell — May 11, 2007 @ 9:37 pm

  12. Hi Stanley – Thanks for chiming in! I find it interesting that you read your comics on your tablet PC. You’re the first person I’ve heard from that reads comics on the computer (full comics, that is – webcomics aside). Here is a question: Do you prefer digital comics over paper comics? (with todays technology – right now I am very skeptical about digital paper, sure, it will happen eventually, but now? I think it’s over hyped) I made a poll at the Cerebus Yahoo! Group, and so far there is a 100% preference to paper comics, even over FREE digital comics. Which has always been my hunch.

    While I enjoy keeping a pulse on future technology (I’m a cyberpunk buff) I am always hesitant to base my own business decisions on the latest hype. There is always so much sensationalism that it’s easy to loose sight of reality. When I hear talk about people abandoning traditional print for digital comics, I am skeptical, because I myself would never abandon traditional print for digital comics. I just like traditionally printed paper comics. I like owning them. I like reading them. I couldn’t imagine outright trading one for the other. Maybe I’m just old fashioned that way. I’ll be keeping an eye on the next generation (especially since I’ve got 3 of my own).

    I was also skeptical about Scott McCloud’s “pay-per-click” business model when he discussed it in Reinventing Comics, and 7 years later, I think I was right in being skeptical. I just can’t see that model ever working. Cartoon Retro and The Norm seem to be the closest success stories that I know of. However I prefer the PvP business model myself.

    Then again, I’m surprised that anyone buys into iTunes.

    My one last defense in regards to traditionally printed paper comics is this: When your tablet PC breaks down, when your digital paper runs out of batteries, when you are removed from all civilization, you can still read your paper comic. That more than anything, is why I think that traditional print will always be a relevant medium.

    Of course, I have no problem at all providing SPY GUY as a .pdf or .cbr. If that ends up being what the people want? So be it. Time will tell.

    Thanks again for taking the time to add to the discussion. I always enjoy hearing what people think on this subject, especially when it is a dissenting view point to my own! The closer I can get my own view to reality, the more successful I can be with my own comic! In theory anyway…

    Comment by M Kitchen — May 12, 2007 @ 12:56 pm

  13. I’ll tell you my biggest reason for not trusting technology. You’re at the mercy of whoever is making the software. Just like DVDs and CDs and Video Tapes. As soon as some big ass company decides that the time is right to make a whole crap load of money, they change the format, and you lose everything. I have a whole crap load of VHS tapes that are going to be useless when my crappy VCR that only half works breaks down, and there aren’t any more to replace it. I won’t be handing down my VHS collection to my kids, I’ll tell you that. My comic collection? Well I hope one day, whether the world is using digital paper, or whatever types of “files” or magical viewers, I’ll be able to hand down my collection to my kids. Paper is like concrete compared to a PDF. Who knows if you will be able to use PDF’s 40 years from now? But I’ll be able to read my issue of Groo #1.

    That’s just my thought.

    Comment by Blair kitchen — May 12, 2007 @ 11:20 pm

  14. Interesting. I never once stopped to consider that as a reason for traditionally printed paper comics over digital comics, even though I DO consider that every time I look at my own personal DVD collection.

    Margaret over at the Cerebus Yahoo! Group just wrote:

    I voted for paper comics for $$$, but I also get an electronic comic for $$$ (just James Kochalka’s American Elf) and for free (lots from Boy On A Stick and Slither to xkcd to La Muse). I’m more apt to read an “e-comic” if it is free, and I only pay for James’ comic because I pick up all of his hard copy work and really enjoyed it. Now I just get his daily American Elf comic rather then picking up the hard copy versions.

    I don’t pick up many hard copy comics nowadays, and rarely set foot in a comic store (the most recent time being at SPACE). Though I have picked up some hard copy comics from stuff I’ve seen on line, and would gladly pick up a trade of La Muse once Adi and Hugo have finished it.

    So while I prefer my comics to be paper comics for $$$, I get the majority of my comics nowadays via the internet for free.

    Comment by M Kitchen — May 12, 2007 @ 11:30 pm

  15. Mike:

    Here is pretty much the latest in digital paper:

    http://www.digitimes.com/displays/a20070514PR200.html

    I don’t think digital comics are capable of competing with print comics right now. The technology of the “digital comic book reading device” doesn’t yet exist. The profit models have not yet been worked out. But, I do think that when someone hits that sweet spot between fidelity of reproduction and physical convenience for a digital reader, print is going to become even more prohibitively expensive than it already is. There are economies of scale to consider. We’re already seeing the big newspapers and magazines cutting back their reliance on print in favor of Internet publishing. Once these big players are no longer subsidizing the pulp industry, paper prices will skyrocket. (Actually, pulp paper prices have already been rising exponentially over the last fifteen years or so.) It’s very likely there will be comic book artists creating paper books a hundred years from now — but who will be able to afford to buy them? Paper books will certainly be an anomaly compared to the rest of the “publishing” industry as it will come to exist. Kind of like how books we buy today don’t attain to the same standards of quality as the peak of European book-binding several hundred years ago. If you’re in the business of creating mass entertainment, your content has to be affordable enough to be readily available. See Dover paperbacks.

    I started reading comics in digital .cbz/.cbr format around 2002 or so, and gradually it has taken over almost all of my reading of new material. Part of that has to do with the fact that so little new stuff comes out that I’m actually interested in (I read a lot of stuff that I download that there is basically zero chance I would ever buy); part of that has to do with the fact that a lot of stuff is out of print (many 1970s and 1980s books, especially from defunct indy publishers); and part of that has to do with the sheer convenience of the portable window to my gigantic, searchable comics archive (thanks to the Internet I can tote my tablet virtually anywhere and still access my comics files at home). I will say that I read a lot fewer digital comics when I was doing it off a monitor screen. My tablet (Thinkpad X41) is relatively lightweight and has a good contrast ratio. Major complaints right now are that it’s not flexible; that even at 3lbs it _could_ weigh less; and that the lack of multi-touch screen interface requires that I have to use the stylus to move between comic files. For what it’s worth, I also do virtually all of my comic art on this tablet now (Photoshop and Manga Studio Pro running inside CrossoverOffice on top of Linux). Flexible, networked digital paper is another step in this direction that will only make it more convenient to favor the electronic device over the bookshelf or drawing table.

    At the present moment, I actually prefer reading comics in printed collections. Preferably in hardback. I have bought many volumes of vintage comics reprints that I already possess as digital files, simply because I’d rather read them in bound format. This is a complete 180 for me, as I used to loathe hardback comics (I used to prefer single issues, partially because the reproduction in reprints was so horrendous and partially because I liked holding/smelling comic books). I would testify that the time I’ve spent reading comics on my computer has completely broken me of my “artifact worship” — strangely, I don’t really miss the pamphlets anymore. However, it is true that the digital format is still not quite as comfortable to me as sitting down with a printed book. For one thing I always have to worry about damaging a > $1,000 piece of equipment, versus a twenty or thirty dollar book.

    In terms of profit model, digital comics face the same problems as other forms of online content. It’s likely that, if the Internet is able to retain its open structure, new profit models will have to emerge. “Scarcity” is a game you play with physical objects, not with digital bits. I think it’s very difficult for comic book fans, especially, to lose their “artifact” mentality when it comes to content delivery. You can’t put a .cbz file in a mylar bag. You can’t resell it in two weeks at a 1000% mark-up. It doesn’t feel like you’ve bought anything. But I think that this mentality is going to melt away with the first generation of comic readers who come up with the digital reading technology. Maybe in sixty years time they’ll feel uncomfortable with the newest network paper that is physically indistinguishable from newsprint because they have nostalgia for their CRT monitors. πŸ™‚

    Again, though, my point with all of this isn’t to convince anyone that this technology is coming — that much is inevitable — it’s to suggest that we might simply acknowledge that the game is afoot, that things are changing, and that it’s actually kind of an interesting opportunity for small publishers to edge in on an equal footing with the big comic companies.

    Finally, if you compare comic books to other forms of periodical publishing, they’re already a bit of an anomaly in that comic books are not predominantly supported by advertising revenues. Most magazines and newspapers are loss leaders that profit from their ad rates, not from actually selling copies to readers. Over-all, periodical publishing is a business in which publishers sell a certain number of eyeballs to advertisers. That’s the economics. That’s why you’re able to buy a 500 page issue of VOGUE, printed in full-color on glossy paper, for seven bucks and not seventy bucks.

    Granted, much of this is probably useless to a cartoonist trying to make a living from their books _right now_; but I would point out that there are a lot of people making a living from their web comics, and other forms of purely digital content, _right now_. The Direct Market is/was a system that worked for what it did, when it did; but there are a lot of ways to do things and I for one think that somehow interested parties will eventually figure out how to profit from digital comics, just as interested parties have started to figure out how to profit from other forms of digital content.

    Comment by Stanley Lieber — May 14, 2007 @ 6:28 am

  16. Stanley: Thanks for the great insight. Some of those points, I haven’t really thought of before. (Especially the cost of paper rising due to less overall demand).
    Technology scares me.

    Comment by Blair Kitchen — May 14, 2007 @ 12:42 pm

  17. For the most part, your thinking on this stuff seems very close to mine overall.

    The economies of scale doesn’t concern me at this point. I’m not sure if it should or not. Perhaps. I’ll keep my eye on it.

    The newspaper thing I can understand. There is not a lot of point nowadays to bother with a newspaper, because most of it is shite and advertisements. As a news source, the internet is faster and much more vast. And there isn’t much “artifact” value. I can understand people still wanting to buy a traditional newspaper though. But I can also see why newspaper corporations would be scaling back traditional print and leaning towards online.

    As for technology, I can see this stuff coming. But it doesn’t scare me (except for microchip implants with ID chips and RDF tags – that stuff seriously concerns me). I remember while I was working on Final Fantasy back in 1998-2001, actors were freaking out that they were all going to be replaced with CG characters. I don’t care what anyone says. It’s just not going to happen. I see the scare over traditionally printed paper books being threatened by electronic media being in the same ballpark (at least in the short term – which is what concerns me most at the moment).

    I totally agree that as independent artists, this is an opportune time for us to compete with the BIG publishers.

    NOW, THIS IS THE BIG QUESTION:

    What do you see as being the ideal business plan for someone wanting to create an independent comic? As a fellow comic maker, I’m sure you’ve given a lot of thought to this, and I am curious what your best thinking is on the subject.

    To turn this comic making into a full-time career, what would YOU do?

    Comment by M Kitchen — May 14, 2007 @ 3:35 pm

  18. Oh yeah, ONE MORE QUESTION:

    Who are the people making a living from their web comics, and other forms of purely digital content, _right now_?

    Aside from The Norm, I’m not sure I know of any.

    Comment by M Kitchen — May 14, 2007 @ 3:57 pm

  19. Blair:

    I think I forgot to respond to one of your points. When my batteries
    run dead or my electricity goes off, I certainly can’t access my
    digital comics. There is a danger in storing so much important
    information in fragile formats, you are absolutely right. Maybe that’s
    what happened to the Olmecs. πŸ™‚

    Mike:

    http://www.penny-arcade.com (web comic)
    http://www.americanelf.com (web comic)

    Not every online content company is a loss-leader. These Penny Arcade
    guys clean up through advertising and merchandising deals (by now
    their material is also collected in print form and licensed out to
    print magazines, but they started out and thrived as an online only
    strip).

    I do think that right now most every individual comics content
    provider that turns a profit on the Internet does so with some type of
    advertising scheme; whether it be Google AdWords, banner ads, or other
    sponsorship deals. Many web comics creators license their strips to
    high-traffic websites as well as running ads on their own sites and
    embedded in their own RSS feeds. On the other hand, Kochalka simply
    charges a low monthly subscription fee for unfettered access to his
    complete archives. Both of these seem like workable plans to me, but
    again, I’m not sure how viable they are if no one’s ever heard of you.
    I don’t think the merchandising takes off for any of these people
    until they become fairly well known.

    THE BIG QUESTION:

    I wish I knew. πŸ™‚ I turn out a lot of content but not in the form of a
    single continuing comic strip. One of the problems for me in terms of
    making my own comics a full-time career is that I have little interest
    in producing a single continuous strip in the long term. Add to that
    the fact that I am so damned _slow_. As I’m sure you can identify
    with, it’s hard turning out pages and holding down a full-time job.
    This is compounded by the fact that I also work in several other media
    — in the middle of whatever strips I might be laboring on at a given
    time, I’m also turning out prose stories, music, etc. I’ve not done a
    very good job of getting my own ducks in a row. Over the last couple
    of years, I’ve just been sticking everything on the Internet and
    waiting for somebody to write me a check.

    (You laugh, but a few times people actually have written me a check.)

    This may sound asinine and lazy but until I can gather enough material
    together to assemble a potentially profitable collection, there’s not
    a lot else I can do. Nobody pays for bite-size chunks from an unknown.
    At some point in the next two or three years I will be completing a
    graphic novel and prose novel, so ask me this question again in 2010.
    πŸ™‚

    Comment by Stanley Lieber — May 15, 2007 @ 9:07 am

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