WHY I DON’T READ COMIC BOOKS

Ten years ago I worked as a house mover, not the type that moved furniture but the type that moved the actual house itself.  It was a labor-intensive job but I did it without complaint.  I was a big bloke then and I worked with some blokes who would have done the wharfies proud.  One day I was caught reading ‘Donald duck’ comics and that night at dinner I spent thirty long minutes trying to explain why I read them (I had about 50 Walt Disney comics with me, couldn’t quite say I found them somewhere).  After 30 minutes of trying to explain myself I come to the realization that my dinner was now cold while everyone else had finished and was looking straight at me.  I decided to mutter some awe-inspiring words – ‘ I read them because I enjoy them, I don’t have to explain it to you’.  With those words I then ate my dinner in peace.  I still believe Carl Barks is the best storyteller in the business.

So why don’t I read comics now?  Because I don’t enjoy them and would be embarrassed to admit that I did in fact read them.  So where did the industry go wrong?  I left when IMAGE started their ‘domination of the industry without taking any prisoners’.

Imagine a new person (I’ll call him ‘Newbie’) walking into a comic store and saying in an unbiased way ‘ I would like to start collecting comics, what are the current bestsellers?’.  Show that customer the current top ten sellers and he’ll walk out the shop the same way some people walk out of a sex shop.  From reading newsgroups (I still keep in contact with the industry, I just don’t read comics) I understand not many are impressed by X-Men at the moment and only buy it because of what Chris Claremont did years ago (yeeeears ago).  So if you gave the current batch to Newbie, would he be impressed?  How many do you know buy Batman because of the character and not the writer or artist?  Imagine giving this to Newbie and telling him it’s good because it’s Batman.  What if it sucks?

The overall standard of the industry has gone down, there is not enough people at the top end holding up the industry.  If you don’t know what I mean by this then consider this, everyone says TV sucks, yet they keep watching it, why?  Because there is enough good quality shows to keep people watching.  People go to the cinemas because there is enough good quality movies each year to keep the punters coming back.  For every ‘Star Wars’ there is about 10 ‘American Pie’ movies.  (I hated ‘American Pie’, it you enjoyed it then just put your most hated movie in its place).  My point is that there are not enough Frank Millers, Chris Claremonts, Carl Barks or Will Eisners to keep the industry ‘average’ propped up to a respectable level.

 What is the overall problem of the industry?  Two things.

Firstly, the industry is not advertising outside the industry (in Australia there is no advertising).  What everyone is trying to do is pinch readers from another comic book instead of trying to bring new readers to the fold.  This only leads to an overall decrease in readers in the long term.

Secondly, and Jim Shooter* admitted this, the average reader only ‘averages’ two years in the industry.  Therefore, according to Jim, you could REHASH THE SAME STORIES EVERY TWO YEARS!!  Why hire another writer?  What came first, the attitude to redo stories every two years (therefore driving people away from comics), or the realization that readers change every two years?  It’s like asking if it was the chicken or the egg that came first.  Why don’t we try and break this cycle?

*  I heard Jim Shooter talk at the Chicago comic Convention in 1995 or 96 (I can’t remember which year), he was giving a writing workshop.  He had just started a new comic company with a castle as its logo; I can’t remember what it was called.

COMIC FEST 2001

WARNING – This is an old article of mine 🙂

I’ve just got back from comic-fest 2001 and thought I would write a few lines about it.  Firstly though, who am I?  The name is James, I write and publish ‘Captain Koala’.  There’s the technical crap out of the way.

Quick disclaimer first though, the following comments are about Koala Comics but the same could be said about any number of publishers.  There are some publishers (I won’t name any) that firmly believe that the industry is healthy while I don’t. 

The convention was good and very fair (I will explain this later).  There was no major problems as far as I was concerned and the only minor drama I had was that the music was way too loud, but it was turned down within 30 seconds of me talking to the organisers, full marks for that.

Enough of the convention as a whole though, my article is on what I know best, the Australian publishers section.  When I said before that the convention was very fair I meant that all the stands got a good spot, there were no stands hidden around corners or in a dark spot out the back.  Everyone who went to the convention saw all the stands, whether they stopped at them or just walked straight past is not the point, the fact that they saw them is important. 

Overall though, the Australian comics did bad, very bad.  Koala comics pulled in enough money to pay for the table, that’s all.  It didn’t even pay for my food bill for the weekend, but the way I eat & drink I wouldn’t have expected that anyway.  I may have a few little arguments from other stall holders over these comments, but before we do I would like to see the stalls revenue for the weekend, then we’ll argue.

So why didn’t we sell well?  The first thing I noticed about the Australian comics is that out of the dozen or so publishers I was one of only three to be there from Ozcon!  It means that there is a lot of up and coming publishers and talent coming through.  But why aren’t we selling?  To answer this I think I may have to bite the bullet and say ‘WE SUCK’.  We don’t all suck as there is some good stuff out there.  I’m not going to publicly say what I thought was awful but I will publicly admit that I don’t like Captain Koala issues 1-5.  I was selling the whole set (1-8) for $10 at comic-fest but if someone only wanted one issue I advised them to buy the latest issue that was available, which was issue 8.  Why am I picking on my own comic? Because I intend to clean up my own back yard first.  Issues 1-5 were written in 1992, issue 6 in 1997, 7 in 1997, 8 in 1997, 9 in 1999 and 10 in 2001. (Issue 9 will be on the Internet by June 30, I promise).  So what do I intend to do about it?  When I have finished issue 10 I intend to put them all out in a graphic novel, with the first 5 issues heavily edited.  How many other comics admit that they are not up to standard?  (What is the standard?)

As a whole, the industry is making the same errors over and over, because of the youth of the publishers they don’t realise that every mistake they are making has been made many times before by other Australian publishers that are now defunct.  I have personally made nearly every mistake possible, when I first spoke to people at Ozcon in 1994 I realised that I had made the same mistakes that every one else had done.  As we talked more I found out about other mistakes they had done, over the next 7 years I have repeated nearly every mistake I was told about, somebody shoot me.  Now it has got to the stage where I am watching others doing the same mistakes.

A suggestion that has come up many times and by many people was the idea of having an anthology of Australian comics.  (Anthology is when you have lots of different stories in the one comic, ‘2000AD’ or ‘Dark Horse presents’ are perfect examples).  The best Australian example of this is ‘Southern Aurora Presents’ #1(1995?), the first issue had Bodine, De Vries, Lumsden and Paulos in it.  If you don’t know who they all are then you don’t know your history too well.  De Vries and Lumsden did a shit load of stuff for the US market and it was high quality stuff too.  Bodine and Paulos do ‘Hairbutt the Hippo’ for MAD magazine.  I still regard ‘SAP’ #1 as the best comic that was produced in the Australian market by an Australian publisher, yet it only just covered it’s printing costs!  If anyone wishes to do an anthology I do wish him or her well and would be prepared to help in anyway I could.  Maybe some day someone will finally break through.

Bottom line – will I be going back next year?  Yes.  I have many reasons for wanting to go back.  Maybe I didn’t do too well financially (money’s not everything) but I had a great weekend.

Ebay and scalping

The big event in Australia this year is the cricket, apart from the Ashes, this is as big as it gets Australia V India. This year will be huge news, and not just because of the cricket action on the field.  This year the news includes scalpers and in a big way as well.

 If you go through ebay listings for ‘cricket tickets’ then you will see there are over one hundred listings (116 as I write this article).  Currently CA (Cricket Australia) is trying to get ebay to stop the resale of tickets while ebay has refused, stating the fact that it is not illegal.

Meanwhile the Australian Government has said that it may bring in laws to force sellers to display the identity numbers of the tickets while selling them; this is so CA can cancel the tickets if they wish (or any other promoter that sees their tickets being sold on the Internet).

Ebay has stated that they only facilitate a market place and cannot be held responsible for any items that are traded on their site.

So what does all this mean?  Ebay’s motto seems to be Caveat emptor, which is Latin for “let the buyer beware”.

For buyers this is a scary thought, you would think that if you bought a ‘Louis Vuitton’ handbag then that is what you will get, but the amount of fakes from Asia is astounding.

As a seller you need to overcome this obstacle.

 The ebay feedback system is the method that ebay claims stops dodgy sellers; but this can be easily manipulated by those with a good understanding of how it works.

The biggest problem with the feedback system is that you get feedback for both sales and purchases, so a person with a large feedback score may have never sold an item before.

Who benefits from all this?  Those with good customer service!  I’m not referring to those with a high feedback score; I’m talking about repeat customers.

If you believe that the Internet is a faceless marketplace that needs no personal touch then you will be missing a lot of sales; even though you can’t see your customer face-to-face there is still email with which to communicate with.

Treat your Internet customers well and they will return, just as in real life.