Monday, December 27, 2010

Bookstore as comics' savior? Not so much

My visit to Barnes & Noble today ended up serving to be a cautionary tale to the comics people who may still think that the direct market is a pile of crap that can be discarded because we have bookstores that will sift out the endless volumes of spandex-clad super emo warfare and only serve up wonderful graphic novels that have been reviewed by the New York Times and NPR. Hey, I think I noticed it because I was one of those people. Maybe it was just hope that outside of NYC, Chicago, LA and a handful of other cities that people could still find good comics. You know, the ones you hear about but can't find unless you go to a convention and personally take part in the industry or purchase them online with shipping costing as much as (or more than) the book itself. And just so you know, I live within 30-40 miles of 3 decent size cities with various size B&N locations.

Out of an entire half aisle of comics you already have half that are manga. Very little "literary fare" is found here from what I see. That's going to sound like a diss but I do have manga I like. Not a ton, but enough to know that like the North American comics publishers I guess it gets lost in the shuffle. It does seem like the crap to good stuff ratio is even worse than the rest of the Graphic Novel section but that's probably just because there's so much more of it (and popular titles often take up rows of space for multiple volumes while literary, artsy manga tend to be single volumes).

You wouldn't find anything from the more literary manga pubs like Ponent Mon and from Vertical I only noticed "Peepo Choo" and "7 Billion Needles" though I might have missed a few since I'm not at all familiar with their output (since I never see them in stores) Not much else here for anyone who's not already a manga fan who knows what to buy. No sign of any of the D&Q reprints of Tatsumi's work either. Some good stuff could be found here- I grabbed "Not Simple" and "Solanin" which are both from Viz as I noticed when I went to write this. It also occured to me while writing this that comic shop manga sections always seem heavier on Tokypop (because that's most of what I've bought in the past) and lighter on Viz where bookstores seem to be the opposite.

So, then the other half of the half-aisle of GNs and manga is "North American comics" for lack of a better term- and it's a really bad term because that's also where the European stuff gets put (but I'm not huge on those semantic arguments so whatever). Minus of course a shelf at the top of gaming resources and books in the Dungeons and Dragons vein. I'd say that except for two shelves the North American comics section is pretty much all DC and Marvel. And not even their better books. Sadly, most of the DC and Marvel seems to be the usual trades stocked at a comics specialty retailer. You know, whatever new company-wide event after which "nothing will ever be the same" that gets done just about every year. You know, the book where the third-rate loser villain from the 70s get "reinvented" by some hack writer as a psychopathic killer and rapes and murder a third rate superheroine. In other words, "The Killing Joke" volume 549.

So, our of those final two shelves we get one that's mostly GI Joe and Transformers books from whatever horrible fake indy/wannabe DC/Marvel publisher puts those out now days. Boom, IDW, Crossgen, Now- I can't tell them apart half the time. They pop up every ten years with the same publishing plan and fade into the back issue bins unless they get lucky and get a movie made that doesn't completely suck. Oh yeah, that reminds me: throw in some Hellboy too. Yay, Dark Horse. But basically this is the "indy" section most comic shops obligingly stock for the 1-10% of their customer base that doesn't quit looking at their copy of the "Previews" catalog after the name "Zatanna" or whatever ends the DC section and begins the "crap 99% of comic shop owners don't care about" section. I assume Marvel still is too good to be in with the rest? God, I fucking hate the comics industry...

So, anyway. Now we have one shelf, maybe another half for the odd-sized giant books, of an odd assortment of books most comics fans would recognize as "indy" comics in this bookstore. It's a catch all. You have R. Crumb's newest, "The Book of Genesis," and a fluke remainder copy of something earlier. You have several copies of Julie Wertz, a book or two from a New Yorker cartoonist trying their hand at the"graphic novel thing." However, I didn't see ONE D&Q book. ZERO from either Hernandez Brother. No Seth. No Chris Ware except for a paperback copy of the fat Jimmy Corrigan. No Acme Novelty Library volumes. No James Sturm. No Dungeon. No David B. No Eddie Campbell. No Craig Thompson. No Gary Panter. No Jason.

However, the comic strip reprint section, outside of Zits and a handful of other strip collections, is now mostly from indy comics publishers. Obviously, the Peanuts reprints really changed the dynamic there. It's awesome to see Seth's design on the John Stanley albums (that's what they look like to me) on a bookshelf. There's Tove Jansson books too. Hooraay for good comics!

I guess the success of the reprint books just made it even clearer to me: It makes me wonder if this push away from floppies and into hardcovers aimed at bookstores from companies like Fantagraphics and D&Q is really working any better than the old way? Not that they had a choice. But I'm just sayin'...

Now, I'm sure maybe they've ordered copies of L&R or Acme that have sold out. I'm sure they've had books from all the missing authors I mentioned and what we're seeing is a lot of stuff that's been hanging around because it's mostly crap that won't sell. Maybe they sell a ton of whatever indy comics GN is new and hot. But then wouldn't they have put them in one of their 3 or more aisles of clearance stuff? Speaking of which, why do you almost never see comics there? I do see comics at Bargain Books, a chain selling remaindered stuff at deep discounts, but that's mostly stuff that obviously got very much over ordered based on hype or some glaring order form error where 2 copies where made into 200 or something.

Maybe I'm frustrated knowing that I can't sell copies of my own comics while the people getting paid to find sales at "big" companies might not be doing much better. But really I'm just frustrated that I can't ever flip through good comics in person and decide to purchase them on my own. I have to investigate and special order like it's an obscene fetish only available through mail order or if I fly to a big city and attend a special meeting of my fellow freaks. I might as well be a furry.