Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Comics Blah Blah Comics: All In Color For a Fiver

A few weeks ago I ranted a bit about the high costs of comics. Yep, you young whippersnappers, you're over paying for your comic books! Why, in my day, I would go down to local convenience store with a quarter and buy myself a dozen comic books with enough left over to buy my sweetie a cherry slushy and a new car!

OK, even back in the Golden Age of comics (which was even before my time), the books weren't that cheap. There was a book that came out in the 70's called All In Color For a Dime about this nascent era in comic book history and that's how much a comic book cost back then, one thin dime, 10 cents an issue. 

But damn, those books were 64 pages long. At first. Then the size slipped to 56 pages, then 52, 48 before bottoming out at 32 pages with about 25 pages of story and art. With not much more room to shrink, comic books experienced their first real price increase, up to 12 cents.

By the early 70's, the price was up to 20 cents with 20 pages of story and art. This trend continued through the decade with comic story pages dropping to 18 pages then 17 pages even as the price point increased in nickel increments before finishing out the 70's at 40 cents an issue.

In a way, this is where I feel we are now: rising prices coupled with shrinking content. The average comic book is now $3.99 an issue for 20 pages of story and art. Some books do a bit better than that. DC's $3.99 books have at least 22 pages of story and art. But it wasn't that long ago that DC's $3.99 books had a story page count of 30. Now 30 pages of story and art now has a price point of $4.99.

DC's Batman was going to be the first monthly comic sold at $4.99 an issue. While issue #35 was sold at the $5 price, pressure from creators Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo prompted DC to reduce the price back to $3.99 going forward. But that is going against the trend.

In the January solicitations, Superman is listed as a 40 page book with a $4.99 price; that's probably just for that issue but still, that seems to be the status quo now. At least DC is still offering most of their 20 page comics at $2.99 but how long can that stand?

Over at Marvel, their January solicitations listed the final issue of She-Hulk which was one of only TWO comics that had a price of $2.99. The one lone remaining book at $2.99 is Ms. Marvel. Hell, even the debut of Squirrel Girl's ongoing series is listed at $3.99. 4 bucks for a Squirrel Girl comic book? What kind of crazy world is this?

Not only that but Marvel is launching in January a weekly series called Wolverines with a price of $3.99 an issue. That's right, if you're a mind to follow this weekly series, it will set you back $16 a month. This will be the first weekly series offered at that price. Meanwhile, DC's three weekly series are still holding at $2.99.

The thing is the price of stuff is going to go up. That's an axiom of life in a free market economy. Whatever you're paying for a can of corn or a T-shirt is more today that what you were paying 5 years ago and it will likely be more than it is today come 5 years from now.

But are we really ready to accept paying $3.99 an issue for 20 pages of story and art? Marvel fans appear to be OK with it, I guess, which I'm sure makes corporate parent Disney very happy. How long before DC begins bumping up the price while shaving the amount of content? And how in the name of sanity is this good for business?  Maybe in the short term the balance sheet looks good but I question how long this kind of inflation can and will be tolerated by comic buying fan base. 

Meanwhile I'm looking at the January solicitations for Image and yes, there are quite a few 32 pagers listed at $3.99 although I'm unsure what the actual page count is for story and art. However there are quite a lot more 32 page comics with list prices of $2.99 and $3.50. And remember, these are creator-owned titles; writers and artists don't see squat unless the book sells and it has to sell very well if they want to make a living out from the shadow of DC and Marvel. So how are these creators producing comics for less than $3.99 an issue?

For me, it may well be a moot point. Batman is my last New 52 title from DC and I can't remember when I bought a single issue of a Marvel comic. More of my attention is going towards Image titles. And while I'm not currently getting any of the $3.99 titles at Image, I've thumbed through a couple and it looks to me that those titles are giving more bang for the buck than their $4 counterparts at DC and Marvel. 

And that's the key, isn't? Prices are going to go up on everything. And yes, that sadly includes comics. But the question is, are we getting a suitable return on that $3.99 or even $4.99 in terms of the amount and the quality of the content involved?

Are we ready for our comic book fantasies to come all in color for a fiver?

Be good to one another.

I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You

For $4.99, this was a really
good $3.99 comic book.

Carl Kasell

I was saddened to hear of the death of Carl Kasell, a distinctive voice on NPR’s "Morning Edition" and "Wait, Wait ... Don...