Confessions of a Comic Book Guy is a weekly column by retailer Steve Bennett of Mary Alice Wilson's Dark Star Comics of Yellow Springs, Ohio.  This week Bennett looks at online comics as an opportunity for smaller publishers, the opportunities for comics in the magazine format, and a coda on cats.


Top Cow announced it will post the first Freshmen mini-series free online on the Drunk Duck Website and let's not kid ourselves, we'll be seeing more and more of this sort of thing.  What we have now is a window of opportunity for smaller publishers (how many hundreds of pages of Ninja High School or Gold Digger are there?) to exploit the very absence of the bigger players online.  Even if there was a willingness at the editorial level of Marvel and DC to exploit their characters on the Web, it would probably take at least a year for their corporate masters to sign off on such a plan.


But all this talk about online content does raise one obvious question; in a world where they're giving away comics, what's to become of us, the retailers?  Could we, like our French cousins with their bande dessinee, manage to survive selling (more or less exclusively) graphic novels?


Thankfully, it's really not something we'll have to worry about anytime soon.  Oh, I definitely think online comics will be a part of our future; it's really just a matter of how fast the changes will come.  Are we talking the foreseeable fifteen-minutes-in-the-future, or a decade, or two?  The honest answer is; I don't know, couldn't tell you.


I'm really not the one to ask; wasn't I the guy who not too long ago was writing about how comic magazines (emphasis on the magazine) were the wave of the future?  I still do (there are lots of waves).  Comics should definitely have more content and be in a format more appealing to a mainstream audience, something like Nickelodeon's Avatar Magazine, which was on newsstands when it was being solicited via Diamond.


But I think it speaks volumes that while Nickelodeon has produced magazines with comics in it them they haven't produced 'comic magazines.'  It lets you know just how competitive the magazine business is and how difficult it is to make a profit even with a top-selling magazine.  Circulations are down across the board, there have messy conflicts between distributors (does any of that sound familiar?), etc.  Take, for example, Esquire; the Website claims it has a paid circulation of 700,000 copies.  I just renewed my subscription for a year - it cost me six dollars.


Which to me says that keeping that paid circulation high (for the benefits of making the magazine attractive when it comes to selling ad space and selling or rent out their circulation lists) is so important the publisher is willing to pretty much sell copies at what most certainly be a loss (the really scary thing; online I was able to find subscriptions for even less).  With Time-Warner behind them, DC could certainly create two or three (Vertigo, Looney Tunes, Adventure, say) of the kind of magazines I've been talking about...but maybe  they actually are able to make more money by publishing two dozen pamphlets instead.


I really don't want to become one of those people who can't stop talking about their cat. But since in the past I've recommended you go out and get yourselves an animal mascot for your store, in good conscience I have to confess things haven't been all that great between the staff and store cat Mr. Eko.  At five months he was an adorable little kitten and his clumsy attempts at predator behavior were universally deemed adorable (there's something inherently endearing about incompetent aggression; take Pinky & the Brain, for example) by our customers.  But at six he's become a lanky (and frankly obnoxious) adolescent; he's surly, acting up and out, biting, chewing, hitting, leaping, etc.


But in front of 'company' he's as good as gold or better.  And really, that's all that matters.