Confessions of a Comic Book Guy is a weekly column by retailer Steve Bennett of Super-Fly Comics and Games in
Writer Brandon Thomas was good enough to send me a PDF of the complete first issue of his upcoming comic book The Many Adventures of Miranda Mercury, and I'm happy to report it's every bit as good as I had hoped it would be when I first saw the solicitation in the Archaia Studios Press section of Previews. Don't worry, I have no intention of reviewing it here (I'll be doing that in the pages of an upcoming issue of Comic Buyer's Guide) nor will I say you should order it for your store.
It's got several strikes against it: its genre (if you don't sell a single copy of Nexus, you probably should avoid this one) and not-a-panel-is-wasted (there's nothing 'decompressed' here) storytelling style may not appeal to your store's core customer base. It also features a black female protagonist. Even today the first part might prove a hard sell to some and while the second may appeal to the customers who want every single title 'with a girl in it' pulled for them in spite of Miranda's tight outfit, there's no salacious 'fan appeal' here.
But I will tell you this: it's good. And we need a lot more comics like it.
Oddly enough, this is where I make my U-turn toward what I'm supposed to write about: how to sell more comic books. Unfortunately, my answer is that we need better comic books. I know we've been down this road before, but I'll never forget the time a retailer rebuked me for a column I wrote complaining about the quality of current comics. He told me in no uncertain terms the time I wasted complaining about something we couldn't change would be better served trying to sell the comics that we have.
The proper response to this point of view should always be: 'I call shenanigans.'* Because we really are salesmen and good salesmen care about the quality of their wares. Of course when things are good (as they are at the moment) publishers credit the product, but when things are bad (as they soon may be-- anyone who hasn't caught the whiff of a recession on the wind isn't paying attention) it's because we retailers didn't work hard enough.
I was talking to John Cameron of JC Comics about this and he said, 'Yeah, it's always been that way. I tell them if you want me to win the war you've got to give me better bullets.' And there were plenty of misfires last year, especially from DC when much heralded restorations of important characters were derailed because someone couldn't meet their deadline. Even when their comics did come out when expected we got things like the Metal Men (very pretty, but incomprehensibility isn't a selling point) and, well, there's the Flash...
Ron Catapano of Ron's Comics wrote to ICv2 about his unhappiness with the recent run of that title (see 'Ron Catapano of Ron's Comic World on 'Flash''), and while he did a thorough job detailing what is wrong with it, I'll add my two cents. If recent issues of the Flash seemed lackluster, maybe it has something to do with the fact that everyone knows six months from now an entirely new reality will be in place that will make the current incarnation moot (a.k.a. say goodbye to the kids).
Most of the rank and file DC titles have suffered from similar problems. The 'stories' (if you want to be extremely generous) have been retreads of retreads with creators keeping their characters running in place while we wait for Grant Morrison to arrive on his white horse, Final Crisis, to restart everything. This is what's really wrong with 'event' comics like Countdown: it takes time, energy and talent away from the monthlies--you know, our bread and butter, what keeps the punters coming back to our shops week after week.
Another problem with these never-ending stories is, how do you sell them to those coming in late? Even if newcomers have the interest, where exactly is a good jumping on point for Countdown? Which is why 'easy access' titles like Miranda Mercury (not to mention Dan Dare, Atomic Robo, The Lone Ranger, etc.) that focus on the story they're telling rather than worrying about jumpstarting some kind of instant mythology is so important to, yes, selling more comic books.
Although I'm getting my comics through the mail from Super-Fly Comics, I thought it would be an interesting experiment to see if each week I could find a comic so good I'd buy it at absolutely no discount. This week's purchase was Legion of Superheroes #38. OK, picking this one makes a good case for me being helplessly retro in my tastes, and I've got to admit it was Jim Shooter back writing the title that broke down my sales resistance. That being said, it's still a good comic. There's nothing old fashioned about the writing, and the art by Francis Manapul is very pretty indeed. My only complaint -- and I know I'm old and everything, but I can still legally drive -- is I found some of the introductory text boxes so small (and black ink on a black background didn't help), that at one point I had to get out a magnifying glass.
*There is of course a more scatological version of this phrase, but Super-Fly Comics co-owner Tad Cleveland prefers this one, and I worked with him so long I started using it myself. Say it out loud, it's fun!
The opinions expressed in this Talk Back article are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of ICv2.com.