Thursday, March 18, 2010

City... Pulp & The Eye: 2

Hello everyone!

Here is Part 2 of my interview with Books. In this part of our interview, we dive deeper into what the future of comics may hold - as well as where/how Evileye Books fits. I suggest checking out the sites by clicking the titles above or finding the links to the right. Enjoy!

AR: You have some truly exciting things going on. And (it seems) the future holds a lot more excitement, which makes a perfect segue into my next question...

In what direction do you believe the conversation/industry is moving?

MM: There are a two pressure points I like to gauge.
One is the social pressure from the popularity of comics-based movies. It is forcing a bit of a change in the perception of comics and comics fans. In a sense, fanboys and girls are having to grow up in front of the media. This is part of what gives credence to comics lit like the new graphic novel, Stitches, for example. So we've begun to expand both the public and self-image of comics away from the old cape-wearing, primary-colored heroes stereotype toward a more realistic —dare I say post modern- take. We're growing up, which presents an entirely different set of problems for comics. But that's for another time.

Another force building steam is technology within comics. In terms of its effect on old mediums like print, this will be the year defined by two buzzwords: Tablets and Paywalls. At least fifty different tablet computers will be introduced into the consumer space this year, the most anticipated being Apple's iPad. This presents a potential new delivery channel for comics, one that I think dovetails with the aging comics demographic and just may well save the periodical format. The social relief felt by having comics neatly archived and organized inside a portable device where fanboys can finally sit at a café to read them without the fear of being laughed at can't be underestimated.

**Note: Which also harkens the need for change in general public attitude in regards to comics as a form of literature, rather than the past time of children. - AR

As an aside, digital comics pose interesting questions for the Direct Market, among them a navel-gazing exercise of what their inherent value is to comic book fans. I think the DM will have to look again at how to recapture the idea of collectables; how to tap into the distribution of digital comics; and how to make their stores more engaging.

AR: I've heard this point-of-view before. I think it was none other than Stan Lee who put a lot of capital into digital comics before it went belly up. What has changed or is changing about digital publishing since the collapse of that venture?

MM: The delivery channel. In this case, the emergence of portable, highly-capable computer-like devices. Smartphones and now tablets. They bring back a semblance of the intimacy that we all feel when we read print comics or graphic novels. In the aggregate, they will be more ubiquitous than comics and comics shops themselves. Even if you only capture a fractional share of mobile device users to read your comics, it would likely be a market larger than all comic book shop patrons combined because the pie of mobile device users is so much larger.

Tablets will bring with them a sea-change in how we value comics and other traditional print mediums. On this platform, we see the clash between the crowd that clamors for the Internet to be free and the reality that content is hard and expensive to produce. The tablet will encourage the evolution of our definitions of what a newspaper or a book can be. Experiments will surface to make digital comics more than just flipping through "pages" on a screen. Motion comics are an early experiment, but they fail because they feel like bad animation. This innovation will help preserve the value of paying for comics as well as drive more diversity in pricing and products.

AR: True. I do agree, to a certain extent, some of that failure is due to the cheap trick of motion comics. But there are still many people who simply love printed literature.

I also agree public perception of the medium has to change. But would you agree the comics community, itself, has/is doing little to improve the image of comics outside the local comic shop? I mean, capes'n'tights is a dirty word. Still, I don't think little Johnny is ready for Grrl Scouts, Heavy Liquid, American Elf or Blankets yet. Erik Larsen has been railing against updating Spider-man and Superman to suit the tastes of adult readers. What are your thoughts?

MM: With regard to kids and comics, part of the trouble the Direct Market faces is the aging customer base, which begets adult-oriented comics, which tends to exclude a younger reader, one that is serviced well by Scholastic with BONE and manga for girls. A bright spot, though, is the recent wave of kid's titles from Disney published by BOOM! Studios. But now that Marvel is owned by Disney, I wonder how long BOOM! can keep that relationship going. That, of course, presents a new opportunity for the indie segment to pick up the ball (just as it did in the eighties and nineties) to introduce comics for a more mature audience, today, indies may be in a great position to introduce a whole new wave of children-oriented comics. AMULET is a good recent example.

AR: James Kochalka has also been on the frontline of indies producing children-oriented (comic) books, such as; Squirrelly Gray and Johnny Boo. So there is definitely a move to create new readership. And these, obviously work better in print... creating opportunities for adults and children to sit down a read together.

MM: On the matter of exposing comics to a broader base, I suspect a seismic event could occur if John Lasseter and Joe Quesada ever get together to do a Marvel-based Pixar film. If that happens, the marketing push alone could ensure the creation of an entirely new generation of readers interested in comics. That would present a very interesting opportunity -- and problem -- for the Direct Market retailers. I wonder if they would be ready to move beyond their geek underground status. It would also present an interesting situation for comics publishers across the board, whom have been focused on the older comics reader.

AR: Now, that would be very exciting. There is certainly an abundance of animation-influenced artists out there the establishment has had trouble introducing through standard channels. I can only think of a small handful who've enjoyed success. But even they have met opposition. New comics could be created to feed Pixar animated features which would, in turn, deliver a broader reader base to the comics.

Many of the 'perception' challenges we're citing here are bigger issues in the US than in - let's say - France and Japan. Would you agree with that statement? In much of Europe and Japan, comics are not merely a geek's game or just another form of entertainment for children. With the exception of the hipster/indie readers, this is the painted picture of comics here. What have Europe and Japan done differently... without the use of technology? And do you find yourself taking a similar approach with Evileye Books while embracing the digital?

MM: I can't speak very intelligently about European comics or manga from a business perspective, other than to say that I wish we had the broad acceptance in the US they enjoy across demographic groups there. Then we'd have as many comics shops as Barnes & Nobles and coffee houses with comics racks.

AR: I don't know about other cities, but indepedent coffee houses, being community-oriented, are very comics friendly. They encourage local creators selling their wares on their shelves. I'd love to see more of that happen.

Anyway, if I'm reading you and the marketplace correctly, the Digital Age may be the last hope for adult comics. To be sure, there are some comics-friendly co-ops and coffee houses in the US... but not nearly as many handheld digital devices potentially owned by domestic consumers. And that is a difficult point to argue against. This, of course, explains the need for progressive and aggressive outfits like Evileye Books.

MM: The thing about open markets is that any variable, no matter how small, can change the course of the market. So I would be weary of phrases like "last hope".

However, the evidence I do see is that US comics do not have the critical mass they need at the retail level to be a cultural force. They either need to move beyond the Direct Market or the DM has to evolve to embrace more demographic segments. The realistic scenario is a LOT of both. Until that happens, the rise of digital technologies like tablets offer an opportunity for comics publishers to reach audiences in a bigger pond, as it were, than the DM. The potential is in the critical mass of a new kind of reader.

AR: And maybe comics will be devoid of some of the negative stigmas mentioned earlier when we see that "new kind of reader". Are you hitting the convention circuit in 2010? Making your rounds at bookstores?

MM: The more we look at the current comics convention model, the more we believe it's broken, and does a disservice to indie publishers. So it's an ongoing study to see which events, if any, make sense for us.

AR: Which is bizarre when you consider how many indie publishers hand over their hard-earned cash to support the conventions. Of course, the relatively recent rise of the live art aftershows, hosted by indie creators, is a creative approach to promotion outside the convention hall.

AR: Do you have any parting words for readers?

MM: These are exciting times for comics and publishing. I'm glad we're around in this time in history to see it happen and play a part in it.

AR: Thank you! It's always good to see positive and creative approaches in the evolution of the medium. I'm glad your a part of it too. Best of luck!

Make sure you check in at and Evileye Books regularly for reviews, updates, submission opportunities, and the general excitement indie comics are generating.