Not to put too much pressure on you, but I have a feeling that the holiday season will be a very important one this year, as very bad things keep happening in the world, and I'm afraid that many more people than usual with be affected by them. I'm secretly wishing that a lot of folks, instead of pursuing their usual, frantic, holiday behavior, will take a moment to look within and remember what this holiday (or their preferred celebration) actually means, instead of just relying on you and your wonderful gifts.
(Although the slightly evil part of me hopes that you've put in for a huge supply of coal for those greedy bankers and executives who continue to exploit their employees, ignore promises made to those who have given their lives in service, and yet have their hands out looking for a bailout for the corporations that they themselves have driven into the ground, while not touching a cent of their personal fortunes. It's sad to think that Dickens' A Christmas Carol is just not scary enough anymore.)
Anyway, Santa, sorry for soap boxing! Time to get to the point: What I want for Christmas!
Actually, this is not so much what I want this year (I think I made that point above), but what I hope and wish for my friends (and even foes, since that's what it's all about.) (No, NOT the Hokey Pokey!) in the wacky world of comic books.
So, Santa, even though my "wish list" doesn't include all that many physical "gifts" per se, by discussing these with you, I'm hoping that you can spread a little of the Santa-magic here and there and make it a great 2009 in the world of funny books!
The Price You Pay
First of all, Santa, everyone these days is concerned about the rising costs of comics. So, I think everybody needs to stop and take a deep breath and talk about the inevitable price increases for individual comics.
If I were addressing this to the Big 2 publishers, I would ask them: In an economic environment where more and more folks are going to be scrambling just to scrape enough together for food and rent, do you really think that jumping cover prices directly from $2.99 to $3.99 is a good idea?
Once upon a time, back in 1961 (see graphic, click on graphic to make it larger), we were told that the price of a hot dog and the price of a comic book were roughly the same, although the price of a hot dog was increasing faster. No longer. With the help of my NYC expert, former Westfield subscriber, and DC editor Bob Greenberger, we have determined that hot dogs can still be bought for about a dollar at most of the famous curbside hot dog carts in one of the most expensive cities in the world. Bob also tells me that hot dogs at sporting events usually start at $4.50 or $5.00. (I don't get out much.) Yet, most standard comics today fall in the $2.99 to $3.99 price range. So what's the solution?
Obviously, comic books sold at hot dog carts in NYC should immediately drop their cover price back to a buck, while comics sold in sporting arenas should immediately jump up to $5.00. I would think that the difference should cover the spread! 'Nuff said! Go Yankees!
As for what comics should cost elsewhere, well, that's really up to the individual publishers and for once for I'm glad I'm not in their shoes, because there're a lot of tough decisions ahead due to aging readership, declining sales, and greater competition. And no really good solutions.
Maybe It's the Content
How about this for a concept, Santa? Instead of this endless spiral of mediocre new series put out with the sole intent of grabbing market share and crushing the competition, why don't publishers concentrate on making their core books BETTER.
I know we can argue about what better means, but I think we can all agree that readers who want to buy comics are happier customers than those who feel they have to buy titles just to keep up. Traditionally, Marvel and DC both run aesthetically better when they're leaner and meaner. And the more books you publish, the less likely that the average reader can "collect the universe" (which probably isn't even within the realm of possibility anymore - and hasn't been for years). Publishers, that new book that you probably spent all of 10 minutes to dream up - it's not just competing against your rival publishers, it's competing against your own titles!
And better books will soften the blow of a price increase. Probably not by much, but every little bit helps.
I know from experience that no one sets out to produce a mediocre comic. It just happens sometimes. But I also know that books have been created "on the fly" just to fill a hole in a publishing schedule. Almost always a bad idea.
Santa, I often dream of a world where comic book executives, instead of having their comic books hand-delivered to their office door, actually have to go into a comic shop once in a while, where they could actually talk to their customers as they're buying - or not buying - their wares. And they could ask them important questions like "Were you able to afford everything you wanted to get this week?" or "I see you're not buying XYZ (publisher's hot book of the week). Why not?" But then I wake up and realize that I'm just dreaming.
The Digital Age
Some of the problems facing comics are almost too complex to even consider - especially in a forum such as this, Santa. The digital age of comics is already upon us, although publishers have been slow to adapt and the solutions they've halfheartedly tried have been less than successful. The bigger question may be whether the seemingly inevitable digital revolution will completely collapse existing comics distribution channels.
Distribution is facing its own challenges, as unsold book collections are being returned to publishers in unprecedented numbers from bookstores in financial trouble. While fans may welcome the opportunity to buy overstock at slashed prices (now you know how convention sellers can afford to put out boxes of trade paperbacks at $5 a pop.), some publishers might be heading for very unpleasant surprises three or six months out as large numbers of books that they considered sold come back to them.
But that's treading into dark murky waters beyond our control. Santa, all we can really do about much of this is hope that the movers and shakers of the comics industry have the best interests of the unique art form of comics in their hearts as they approach the difficult decisions ahead.
Closer to home, here are some of my personal wishes for comic professionals and characters in the year to come:
For Spider-Man: More stories like New Ways To Die and the Kraven arc! And bring MJ back! Jeez, she's not poison!
For Joe Quesada: Stay away from Spider-Man!
For Dan DiDio: The wisdom to make some really good decisions next year - and the confidence not to change his mind so frequently.
For the Watchmen movie: Hoping it's great! The prospect of thousands of fan's heads exploding if it isn't is just too gruesome to contemplate!
For everybody: More lettercolumns!
For Batman: Not being dead!
For DC's Johnny DC line: More books for 'tweens! You're doing great on books for the younger kids (except you need a lump of coal for trusting Mike Kunkel on Shazam! and he deserves a dozen for not producing work on time). But you need something for the 8-14 year olds! And if you think your regular line is appropriate for kids (*cough* Batman: Cacophony), you need an entire coal mine!
For Marvel's Adventures line and other kids' comics: Keep giving work to Jeff Parker, Colleen Coover, Todd Dezago, Craig Rousseau, and other like-minded creators. (And, hey, give Kathryn Immonen a shout!) They're doing some of the best superhero work out there, period. They're making kids' comics secretly subversive - by sneaking in some actual educational stuff when no one is looking (Shh! Don't tell anybody!) - which is the way it should be!
For Captain America: More Batroc! Less Red Skull! (for now...)
For Dark Reign and Dark Avengers: Not TOO dark, please.
For Superman: Some quality time with Ma.
For Geoff Johns: Looking forward to your new projects - but worried over which great project you might have to drop from your very busy schedule!
For Manhunter and Blue Beetle: Better luck next time! We'll miss you!
For Millie the Model: A new book! Yay! (Although, wait... Hmmm... I reserve the right to change my mind after I see it!)
For the Justice League and Teen Titans: Great Milestone years!
For Batwoman: A long-promised title? Please? And don't forget about Babs!
For the Legion of Super-Heroes: A return to some classic concepts, long thought gone forever. I'm liking what Geoff Johns is doing with the characters...
For Jim Starlin: Tread carefully with Hawkman! But have fun storming the castle!
For Supergirl: A stable storyline and creative team? Please?
For everybody: More monthly comics actually published monthly!
For everybody: More respect for Indy creators and their books. I fear they're going to have a tough time next year. Be sure to share your love with others!
For everybody: More big stories that deliver the goods, and less mega-events with too many pointless crossovers and tie-ins.
For everybody: Less reliance on the big-name, Hollywood-types who think nothing of screwing up publishing schedules. Are we really going down this road again?
For Publishers: Don't publish the big-name, Hollywood-types' work - and don't pay them - until it is finished!
For big-name Hollywood-types: If you're looking for an example of work ethic and balancing more than one career, I can think of no better example than Brad Meltzer (Justice League, Identity Crisis). He doesn't take on more than he can handle, he specifically sets aside time to work on comics projects, and he delivers stuff on-time, every time. And speaking of work ethic - especially this year - a big tip of the mouse to Brian Bendis (Secret Invasion, two Avengers books, Ultimate Spider-Man and numerous special projects). That's the way they do the big projects downtown.
I also wish that DC's Final Crisis actually ends next year because what's the point in calling it "Final" if it just keeps going and going?
Wrapping Up (with a bow)
So, anyway, Santa, those are just some of the ideas that I had that might make the comic book world a slightly better place. I hope that you might be able to help out on a couple of them!
I'd attach a list of who's been naughty and who's been nice this year, but I figure that you've already taken care of that.
Your milk and cookies are in the usual place. We made some extras for the families down at the shelter and they really liked them, so I know you will too.
(And if it's real cold on Christmas Eve, the "good stuff" is in the lower right hand cabinet in the pantry. Bet that's how you got that red nose!)
Have a wonderful holiday, Santa! And thank you for everything!
KC CARLSON has been writing to Santa for almost 50 years. This is the first year he's only written one letter.
The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily represent the views of Westfield Comics nor any of its wholly owned subsidiaries. Did you know we had subsidiaries? We do. We have five of them. We keep them in the garage. We also have a couple partially owned subsidiaries. We're hoping to make them wholly owned soon. But not before Christmas because then we'd have to buy them presents.
The opinions expressed in this disclaimer do not necessarily represent the views of KC Carlson, nor any of his holey submarines. Not that holey submarines are any good to anybody. Being full of holes. But that pretty much goes for the views of KC Carlson as well. Caveat Namor.
Got comments or questions about this column? You can contact KC at AuntieKC@WestfieldComics.com
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