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WAITING FOR TOMMY - COMICS ACTIVISM
By Richard Johnston

There are thoughts here. They may very well ramble. Live with it.

A while big 'comic activism' was quite the thing amongst 'left of centre' comic book fans, people who tended to hang around the Warren Ellis Forum, Savant Mag or joined organisations with quite scary acronyms and handed out comics on the street. It wasn't enough to buy your favourite comic, you had to do everything in your power to stop the book being cancelled by getting new readers, then doing the same for the medium as a whole.

There were those that didn't buy into it. The smarmy, insincere, elitist types, you could see them hanging around copies of the Comics Journal smoking cheap cigars, wearing berets, reading Eightball, you know, looking to all the world as if they were French. Heaven forbid. Tom Spurgeon, editor of the Comics Journal in those dark, dreary days recently wrote an article berating what he called Team Comics.

Clearly, it was much more admirable to be an anarchist for comics, using guerrilla warfare to push comic books into the hands of unsuspecting passerbys with comics. And thus the soldiers of comics marched, wearing their Artbomb t-shirts, Spider Jerusalem glasses, Larry Young cold hard stares and chain metal crotches. It was exciting, it was passionate, it was a mission and bugger all happened in the end. Artbomb's a good place to get cheap graphic novels (and, let's face it, a pretty cool T-shirt), SavantMag lost its original personnel and the server seems to work every odd Tuesday. And still Finder struggles to sell anything even approaching decent numbers. Decent in this situation, meaning approaching sales of The Outsiders.

Or is it? This is the thing with Anglophone comics, they used to sell millions, people are convinced they can again. People are horrified at Vertigo titles selling four figures, Marvel titles selling under 30,000, New X-Men only pipping 100,000.

So?

Okay, okay, at various times in comics' history, comics have sold more. Either they had less to compete with, or they became a collectable fad. But here's the thing. Bizarre exceptions aside, comics outsell books. Warren Ellis and Colleen Doran's Orbiter sold 10,000 in hardback. That's pretty decent for the book market. New X-Men outsells most singles and albums.

Yes, TV films and games often outsell comics. But then, so do bananas. Bananas make X-Men 2 look like a minnow. Yet, is the argument that The Hulk movie would have done so much better if he'd been yellow and edible?

Tortuous analogy? I'm full of them. But worlds change, cultures change, and Nick Barrucci already wants to sell comics like milk, so hey. Those who want to return to the days of the speculator may have both their hearts and wallets in it, making a tidy profit and lifting the sales of all comics simultaneously, but it always comes at a price - disappointment, disillusionment and some quite enormous amounts of money laundering. Ever wonder how some back issues stayed so high, and how Wizard maintained those high back issue prices? It was simply so certain individuals could report sales of those back issues at such exorbitant fees, ever when no one was buying a copy on the shelf. And that situation could only sustain itself so long, bringing down businesses, livelihoods and in some cases, causing suicide.

And yes, comics sell in their squillions in Europe and Japan. In the UK alone, Viz Comic outsells New-X-Men in America. But no matter what happens, that all elusive super-best-selling American comic book evades the industry. It's not as if the quality isn't there, the superheroes have X-Men, Ultimates, the mainstream have Y: The Last Man and Jimmy Corrigan, the kids have.

.well, we'll get to that in a minute. Consumers needs change, and what comics once could supply exclusively is also changing. Other media have caught up - this is not exactly a new observation. But when The Hulk and 24 can be juxtaposed sequential art, what's going on? The army can no longer be relied upon to buy comics in their hundreds of thousands during war, the bastards. They're all too busy learning strategy by playing TimeSplitters 2. The appeal of the comics medium may well consolidate as a niche. But then, so is the medium of the picture-less book. Until Harry Potter comes along.

Recently, Dynamic Forces Captain, Nick Barrucci, went a little doolally with his whole "comics are cool" thing. He's got plans to raise a budget to fund comic marketing schemes, by issuing a benefit book with the likes of Mark Millar and Gail Simone contributing.

Pages: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 Continued Here...

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