A Mug’s Game

I noted with more than a little interest the announcement that AK Comics was planning to “shift from publishing monthly installments of its comics to publishing graphic novels, beginning in 2007.” Given their quality I don’t think the switch will do them much good. The only thing the company had going for it was good intentions, I quote, “to fill the cultural gap created over the years by providing essential Arab role models.” Which were kind of contradicted by the fact that their scripts came from California and the art was drawn in Brazil.

Still it’s a step in the right direction because (and this undoubtedly is where I’ll get in trouble) direct sales market retailers really don’t need any more comics. Every Wednesday it becomes increasingly difficult to find room on the shelf for that week’s new comics, let alone finding spots for last week’s comics.

I know I’ve said Dark Star looks for good, new comics and a solid independently owned and operated title will always get our attention. But we’re definitely not looking to invest more time, energy and shelf space for new start-up publishers who can’t offer us something substantially different from what we’re already getting.

I mean, it wasn’t that long ago that a flurry of new publishers crashed and burned in little over a year’s time. Each offered a diverse selection of titles supported by substantial advertising, and yet Alias now exclusively publishes for the Christian book store market, Speakeasy is out of business, and Markosia is mostly known for its licensed title Starship Troopers.

The truth is, unless you’re Time-Warner or someone with similarly deep pockets, periodicals are increasingly a mug’s game. Hopefully the next time sometime decides to launch a comic book company it’ll be through a series of graphic novels or, better yet, in the “mook” (magazine book) format, like Cross-Gen’s* Forge and Edge/Victor compendium trade paperbacks which collected six different titles for a relatively low price. There’s still room on our graphic novel shelves, that is, until everyone starts jumping on the original graphic novel bandwagon.

If you get the chance, check out the December issue of Reason magazine (it has a South Park cover) and turn to page 78. There you’ll find an article entitled “When Piracy Becomes Promotion,” which makes a convincing case for the argument that illegal fan subbing helped create the market for Japanese animation in America.

One of the nice things about selling used books (we have 40,000 and more coming in all the time) is you never know what’s going to come in through our door next. As I go through box after box of new arrivals I’m constantly amazed by what I find in them — and how they often relate to the comic side of the business.

This week’s discovery was Free To Be a Family, a 1987 sequel to the earlier Free To Be You and Me, also compiled by Marlo Thomas, about nontraditional families. Included in the contents is “And Superboy Makes Three,” an eight page story about when Ma and Pa Kent told Clark he was adopted, written by Mark Saltzman, drawn by Carmine Infantino and Dick Giodano and edited by Joe Orlando.

It’s interesting for a couple of reasons. First, it seems to have been completely forgotten (I couldn’t find any mention of it anywhere on the Web, not even on the fairly definitive Superman Homepage), though copies of it are readily available and inexpensive online if anyone is interested. It’s a heartfelt if clunky little story where we find out young Clark took the news pretty badly (my favorite line: “Do you ever ask why you have super powers and your parents don’t?”).

At the end it’s revealed that Superman has been telling this story on the Phil Donahue Show (please, somebody know who Phil Donahue was/is; I feel old enough as is). Also on stage are “The Society of Adopted Super-Heroes” which includes Batman (who of course was raised by his butler), Robin (his ward) and the only legitimate adoptee, Supergirl. Aw, remember the good old days, when Superman cared enough to find his underage cousin a safe, stable foster home on earth., instead of letting her run around unsupervised so she could smoke, get tattooed, date much older guys and swear like a sailor? Good times.

*Since one of my recurring topics of late has been comics on the Web I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Cross-Gen was one of the first comic book companies to publish their backlist there; fat lot of good it did them.