Thursday, 18 January 2018

The joys and horrors of comics and trying to switch to digital from print - A ReadItTorial.

This week's Readitorial crosses off a couple of things I've wanted a good old fashioned rant about for a while.

Since picking up a Kindle Fire a while back (I know, effectively the book blogging equivalent of not only selling your soul to satan, but gift-wrapping it with a little note inside with lots of Xs on it saying "Here you go Lucifer old chum, love you kissy kissy") I decided to try and catch up on comics.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! I know, you're probably rolling around on the floor laughing at this point. "Catching up on comics" is, quite frankly, impossible. Just scanning the press releases and release schedules for the first half of this year, we're already hopelessly out of our depth. It would take an amazing feat of detection beyond even the mighty Sherlock Holmes to identify an entry point for most series, let alone have any clue about how to backtrack from a well-established story arc to ensure you don't miss anything.

I'm talking largely about US comics here of course. See, there's something that we've always done better on this side of the Atlantic (and I'd include all the fantastic Franco-Belgian and other Euro-comics in this praise, of course).

We are so much better at controlling fragmentation. It seems that if you want to pick up a particular Euro (or brit) comic, you have a fairly good idea where to start and where to finish.

The problem is that most comic universes get so obsessed with crossovers that it's nigh-on impossible to keep up with absolutely every possible twist and character development even for your faves. Just when you think you've got it all nailed, you'll start reading a comic that makes a massive assumption that you knew all about Captain America's switch to Hydra, or "Lady Thor" taking over from Asgard's favourite son.

"Yeah, I'm a girl now, get over it"
Yes, Marvel are, by far, the worst offenders when it comes to making it nigh on impossible (or at least  as difficult and expensive as possible) for 'comics noobs' to find a way into a well established series that makes any sense.

For example, pick any Marvel comic series based on anything in the Marvel Movie Universe (Say, for want of a better start, "Old Man Logan" because you really loved the living heck out of James Mangold's "Logan" movie, right?) and you're instantly placed on the backfoot of trying to identify and figure out whether Volume 1 is where you should be kicking things off, or whether the series is picking up the storyline from a multitude other secondary comics where the grains of that story arc might have started. GAHHHHHHHHH!

Comics aficionados will likely scoff at this. "Jeez you idiot, don't you even know that you should be reading "Infinity War Issue 6" before you even TOUCH that shiznit?" is likely to be what you'll get back from someone who obviously has a bit more devotion to their comic fandom (or a lot more disposable time and cash at least).

The problem I have with this is time. I really don't have the sort of brain that can keep track of hugely complex systems of story arcs, multi-universes, alt-versions of characters, origin stories (both genuine and one-shot). Thereby I have, by my own admission, no business reading comics in the first place, right?

Wrong. I want stories, I am addicted to stories. I want to read what goes on with certain characters (though with both Marvel and DC stuff, I've always played favourites and really won't go out of my way to read a secondary character comic just because it contains valuable elements of a main "interesting" character's story that would be lost otherwise). Following comics is hard, catching up (after even a short break) is even harder. Really though, it should NOT be this hard for me to share my love of comics with C - who is becoming really obsessed with kid comics (enjoying something of a golden age) but wants to push further into the sort of stuff I like (age appropriate of course, I mean I don't quite think she's ready for Deadpool!)

The big frustration for me is that more than ever there are comics that are being written FOR HER. Take any of the recent female-led comic revivals (for example, the utterly superb "The Unstoppable Wasp" or "Squirrel Girl"). These are fantastic comics for girls AND boys that have a strong and mighty feminist voice cutting through all that sexist bull that female comic fans have had to put up with for generations (though sadly, there's still a long way to go before some stupid nerd boys get the message)

Second rant: Digital itself. Now, I've gone through various methods of obtaining comics (we are lucky enough to be on the reviews list for a few publishers who are awesome and send us stuff to read on our Kindles) - Every single one of them legal and legitimate because I absolutely will not and do not have any truck with piracy at all. I believe comic creators should be paid like royalty for what they do, and that's the end of that.

But going legit is flipping hard and it's flipping expensive. We tried Amazon's quite laughable "Unlimited" service for a month's trial which looked really promising at first, until I discovered the piddlingly small selection of titles on offer in that service, and the distinct lack of ANYTHING in DC's "Big Guns" (one or two really crappy Batman titles but largely a real bust if you want to get DC stuff through that service).

ComiXology is the other source of stuff, and this has actually been a bit better - though prices aren't the best. Just to add even more fragmentation, virtually all big players seem to insist on you using their closed-loop subscription services rather than there being something that offers a satisfying multi-publisher service (A real proper and true "Netflix for Comics" service, in essence - but hey, thank god for libraries who do still seem to stock a ton of brilliant comics and graphic novels in our area, hooray!)

Which brings me to my third rant. The price of comics (collected volumes and graphic novels in particular).

A while ago I picked up the first couple of volumes of "Squirrel Girl" - a series that both C and I have loved to bits. These were reasonably priced, and I thought we'd eventually collect the lot.

Then the problems started. Anything beyond Volume 1 and 2 is ridiculously priced so high that we'd end up having to budget fairly restrictively for them. Not only are they expensive, Marvel's paper quality is dire. Horrid flimsy shiny paper like old Izal toilet paper, with covers that don't look like they'll last being stuffed in your bag for a trip to work.

Back to digital again and things do get slightly better there, with the kindle prices of popular stuff not being quite as bad as print - but if you're like me, you still prefer a graphic novel in print form than digital "just because".

We really want to increase our support of the comics industry. There are a lot of amazing indies out there who are showing the larger publishers how it should be done (Image Comics, First Second, Avery Hill) and I hope that continues, because at the moment it feels a lot like the major players are making the same mistakes bigger publishers in the games industry made not so long back - and are paying for at the moment. Shilling your customers, nickel and diming them is cutting your nose off to spite your face. The real weird thing is that comic illustrators, writers, colourists, letterers are all as pissed off by this as we are. So where's the sense in that?

Rant ends.