Wednesday, February 07, 2007

I Wish Someone Would Invent: Detective Comics Magazine

Have you ever thought about an invention that maybe YOU can't make, but it sure would be nice if someone else did?

I'm going to direct this at DC Comics (Detective Comics Comics, don't you know) since it's the example I'm using, but I just wish this kind of thing existed, by anyone. In America, anyway.

I wish DC Comics would invent Detective Comics Magazine. Right now, there are something like 4 or 5 regular Batman comics. If you're into Batman, you're probably buying them. I wish they would put those regular Batman stories all together in a big 150+ page monthly magazine, add some short backup stories by excellent, but slow or unreliable, artists, possibly a prose detective story, maybe a folded poster, a reprint of a classic Batman story, an out-of-continuity tale, and so on. And you know what? For all I care, you can cram it full of ads, too! Put enough in there that I can pay maybe $6.00 for 150 pages of content, and I'll read all the ads you want me to.

I'm not caught up on what Batman is up to in comics these days, but I would pick up something that would give me a good hour of reading on the bus, even if every story wasn't my cup of tea. It would also give the editors the ability to try out new artists or stories without having to hope that those stories stand on their own right from the get-go. I also like the idea that having prose authors take a shot at a Batman story could be a little more casual. The magazine's got the space. They don't have to make a whole book out of it, just a couple-page story.

I think they could do the same thing with Action Comics Magazine (Superman and friends), Vertigo Comics Magazine (Horror and Crime), Jonni DC Comics Magazine (for kids, all the Adventures-style and Cartoon Network comics), and so on. Then instead of building up readership on all titles, and struggling all the way, they could treat every storyline as a feature, and swap out unpopular features with newer, promising ones, all without the trauma of cancelling or starting new titles.

It also allows a single magazine to gain a following. If an extraordinarily popular feature was in there for a time, the magazine retains that cool factor even when that feature is gone. The readership also becomes more aware of the editor of the book. If a magazine has consistently engaging and well-drawn features month after month, the readers start noticing that that editor is really on the ball and look to him or her to deliver cool stuff in all their projects.

It's the way that almost all Japanese comics are serialized-- the stability of a constant monthly book with high circulation allows a single story to run for dozens of years and thousands of pages, keeping the quality consistent and the flow of the story engaging.

So, you want to invent it? Already know about something just like it? Got a reason why it would never work? Got some suggestions? Got your own "I Wish Someone Would Invent..."? See you in the comments!



At 1:08 PM, Blogger Shad said...

I think I remember reading something by Stuart Moore? on why DC wouldn't do this (the discussion comes up when people compare american comics to the manga)

One aspect is that magazines are fully returnable while direct market "collectible" comic books are not.

I'm not a person who buys/bags/and puts my "complete run" into longboxes so this is how I'd like to read 'em too. Magazines like Drama and Mome are my favorite ways to read comics...(except maybe as RSS feed online)

At 1:11 PM, Blogger Shad said...

Oh...I think they'd want to call it BATMAN magazine?

At 1:44 PM, Blogger Zander Cannon said...

My thought on the returnable/non-returnable thing is that if they could get all the readers of all the series plus people like me who like big ol' comics, plus all the kids who might pick it up on the newsstand, and a ton of subscribers, and really build up that readership, you make your money on ads, not the cover price. And returnable books just means a number you can't put on your circulation, not major loss of income. I mean, it's what magazines do-- comics could do it too.

And they probably would call it Batman, but I wanted to leave it open for Robin, Catwoman, Green Arrow, and (of course) Martian Manhunter.

At 4:55 PM, Blogger Tad. said...

Good rant. It's hard to guess why they do things the way they do. Maybe it's easier for the business-types to "cut the fat" when they serialize seperately. Books that sell poorly get cancelled based on numbers, as opposed to reader input (letters).

I don't know if the "collectables" market is still something comics are trying to abuse, but if so, that'd be another reason to keep the titles seperate.

Does binding for bigger magazines cost more than staples for a 24 page comic?

These are things I do not know. I know that I like your idea, though. If self-publishing was something that made sense, it'd be something I'd like to see from you guys. Even if old projects are long dead, I'd love to see a back-up Knights of Houlihan's Bar in a magazine somewhere.

Ah, well.

At 1:28 PM, Blogger Zander Cannon said...

I think one of the barriers to doing something like this for these companies is that it basically embraces the disposability of the serialized versions of these comics-- and in this day and age, if something is disposable, you don't bother printing it on paper, you put it online. And lord knows they're not ready to do that.

At 3:20 PM, Blogger brian said...

I have been putting forward this argument for years. Comics for me are just another form of entertainment, along with movies, TV, and novels. I'm a pretty casual buyer and I pretty much stick with trades. My example has always been X-Men--barring some of Grant Morrison's run, I haven't picked up an X-book in ten years. But if Marvel was to put together their monthly X-comics as well as all-new short features and archival work into a black and white I would most likely pick it up. Same goes for Batman, Vertigo, etd. I've always thought Vertigo is the best model for this. There library is so deep they could fill a third the book every month with archival work. They could serialize Preacher, Books of Magic, Lucifer, etc. and use that to exposure to push the trades. Why would you, as a comic company, only want to create product for the go-to-the-store-every-Wednesday crowd?

At 1:19 AM, Anonymous atsushi said...

I think it's a great format to bring in new readers. From what I follow weekly and monthly, the fate of a Japanese comic series is usually decided by the votes readers cast in by sending the ballot postcard in the magazine + trade sales.

But I've noticed that readers are slowly backing away from the magazines and stick with buying trades "when they come out." That might work with the popular series, but a semi-popular series can easily be cancelled when there's not enough votes.

Sticking to what the readers like is not a bad thing, but at least the magazines offer something on the side if the reader gets bored. Exposure's always important when it comes to new talent.

At 1:46 PM, Blogger Jed said...

One thing I read recently was that the comic industry is increasingly relying on the traditional bookstores, and the bookstore distributors. (rather then going to Diamond to reach comic speicalty stores.)

The upshot is that book returns are much more the norm at bookstores, and comic publishers are having to bite the bullet and get used to returns, in order to have access to shelf space at B&N or Borders.

At 2:29 PM, Blogger Zander Cannon said...

I feel like a fat magazine would be useful in a bookstore context because it would (presumably) have a higher circulation than an individual comic and have enough ad revenues that being returnable wouldn't be that big of a deal.

And as for what Brian said above-- I don't fault comic companies for sticking with what they know, but I do think that a big trade would reduce the current problem of selling things to people twice. I mean, I know publishers love to sell things to people twice, but when you buy the serialized "Preacher" and then the trade paperback collected "Preacher", you're buying exactly the same material twice-- with a thick magazine, you're at least buying all the other content as well, and taking a chance you'll find something else in there you'll really love.

At 12:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dwayne McDuffie's been going on about a very similar idea on his blog for a long time.


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