Paper chaser.

Von Allan has written a fabulous article on the obvious. Are comics simply too expensive for the masses to see them as a viable form of entertainment? Yes. Fans have been saying it for quite a while. But it is a surprise to hear the same from professionals. Anyone who has a product to sell is going to emphasize the benefits and minimize or even eliminate all discussion of possible flaws. So to hear these salesmen—and make no mistake, these men and women are salesmen as well as creators and editors—openly admit to inflating sales to ridiculous proportions to compensate for a shrinking audience is a bit mad, isn’t it? If one isn’t going to lower prices, why even bring that up? Shove that unpleasantness in the closet and razzle-dazzle ’em with new costumes and the number one.

I’m not rich. I’m not even middle-class. However, I do have a very small amount that I am able to spend on entertainment, like many of my working-class peers. We have televisions, but no gaming consoles. We have used computers off Craigslist and no tablets in sight. We have library cards and no comics. We have land lines and bills—lots and lots of bills. For me, the goal is to get the most entertainment for the least amount of money. However, I’m not going to consume anything simply because it’s cheap. I’m looking for quality plus quantity for the least amount of money I can spend.

When one make one’s purchases this way, life becomes a waiting game. I buy critically-acclaimed computer games years after they have been released. I picked up Arkham Asylum off Steam not too long ago for five dollars. This provides hours of quality entertainment featuring a superhero that I love. I can pay seventy-five cents an hour to role-play as Batman or I can spend three dollars to read a story about Batman in five minutes. No contest. I want the most bang for my buck.

However, unlike most of my working-class peers, I do buy comics. Well, I buy trades. Close enough, right? I’m the one rifling through the five-dollar rack at comic conventions. You paid $17.95 for that B.P.R.D. trade? I snagged three B.P.R.D. trades for $15.00. You got to read a story way before me? Yeah, I couldn’t really care less about that. I’m too busy over here saving money.

I’ve changed more than the format. I’ve also reduced the amount I buy as well as the type of comic I buy. I don’t buy superhero comics anymore. There’s no point. I can keep up with the canon for free via Scans Daily (which I’ve actually been doing less and less) and enjoy quality superhero stories via video games and movies. I do plan on picking up the first Mister Terrific and Voodoo trades if the first few pages intrigue me. But I doubt either story will be wading through many superhero tropes.

I have a slightly off-topic interjection here. DC and Marvel should really find some way to steal traffic from Scans Daily and comic news sites. Those hits could put a few advertising dollars in DC and Marvel wallets. And a few dollars are better than none. Make them come to DC or Marvel websites to view and talk about the five pages you’ve released. Give fans a free, unmoderated area to socialize around your content. No hoops to jump through or accounts to create. Slap some ad space and a disclaimer off to the side and walk away.

But, uh, back to the lecture at hand. What’s the point of this post? I’m thinking as I type, so please bear with me a moment. I started off with three posts which seem to be folding themselves into one. The three topics I wanted to address? I wanted to discuss how the exorbitant price of comics has drastically altered my buying habits. I also wanted to mention my desire for a Gen 13 comic featuring Static, Blue Beetle, and a very popular teen character to give readers who ignored Static and Blue Beetle previously the chance to “warm up” to these characters via a team book with a popular sales anchor. Finally, I wanted to express my fear that the upcoming books from DC featuring minority heroes will not sell well, resulting in DC yanking these books from its lineup and retreating from the idea of including minority characters within its titles.

I think the fear is warranted. Americans as a whole have less than we used to. Americans who are brown? Well, we have even less than that. And if Chris Stokowski, a middle-management man and a die-hard comics fan from Pittsburgh isn’t buying comics like he used to? Well, Devontae Evans, a high-school kid who works Saturdays and Sundays at Foot Locker, damn sure isn’t going to start picking them up. Not when they cost three or four bucks. And when Chris is over at Newsarama complaining about how there’s no need for a black Spider-Man and this PC nonsense is just getting out of control? It’s not farfetched that sales featuring minority characters might be meager and comic companies might decide that integration and diversity are no longer priorities. Minority characters will once again be reduced to background shots in team books. Minority creators will not be hired.

Of course, I still think Ultimate Spider-Man is going to sell well. The character has enough company support and calculated marketing to make up for the casual racism of some readers. Remember when I said that Marvel should blatantly push the characters that DC ignores? It’s happening. And Marvel’s doing a pretty good job of it too. There’s no way any book featuring a brand new black and Latino teen character should outsell Static Shock. Static has years of history and a very successful cartoon under his belt. But Miles? Well, Miles has the power of the Spider-Man franchise and blisteringly hot creators as a sales anchor. Miles is popping up in news articles all over the place. Miles will have guest appearances in popular Marvel books. And Miles is going to make more money than Virgil and Jaime—all while wearing Peter’s hand-me-downs. I think Miles is adorable, but that doesn’t sit completely right with me. Regardless, it’s going to happen. DC will simply toss Jaime and Virgil into the solo waters to sink or swim. Marvel’s hauled out the Coast Guard. Yes, DC is going to obliterate Marvel with its higher level launches, but if I were a DC rep I’d still take the time to start nipping this kind of lower-level ish in the bud right now. I mean, isn’t this how Marvel gained its foothold in regards to diversity in the first place? By actively supporting the type of minority characters that were languishing at DC? And now they have a nice little roster of second-tier IPs to make money from in the future. Well, the future is now.

Actually? The future was the past.

Can’t sleep.

So, it’s the perfect time to blog, no? I headed down to the comic shop on Free Comic Book Day and picked up Love and Capes, Amazing Spider-Man, and Captain America/Thor. Though all three were good, Amazing Spider-Man was the only one that seemed to “click” for me. Reading Love and Capes was like stumbling onto a soap opera for the first time. Unfortunately, soap operas only attract new audiences through (1) long-term exposure or (2) a shocking event. Sadly, unlike General Hospital, new free issues of Loves and Capes don’t show up in my house Monday through Friday at ten. And the habit of reading the book hasn’t been handed down for generations either (though the book does have the benefit of being well written—unlike General Hospital). Without long-term exposure to get me attached to these characters and no shocking event to make me eager for the next issue, it’s not a book I plan on searching for.

Captain America/Thor was charming, but seemed to be geared towards a younger audience. I found it a bit dull. If I’m reading a Thor comic, I don’t really want lighthearted humor. I want an epic. I want Sons of Anarchy and the Iliad thrown in a blender. Of course, that’s not the kind of comic to be given away on Free Comic Book Day. And it certainly wouldn’t be the type of book to give to new, younger readers. Captain America/Thor is just right for that nine-year-old boy out there who will hopefully pick up this comic after I leave it in the library.

Amazing Spider-Man dished up a heavy dose of nostalgia and it worked. A character I’ve been fond of for years (Spider-Man), plus an art style that reminds me of the style dominant when I first started buying comics, plus a featured character that I feel never gets enough attention (Shang Chi)?

Yup, that’s pretty much the best way to drag me back in.

And I realized something in that comic shop filled with grown-ups in their twenties and thirties. It’s not about developing new readers. It’s about winning back people like me—people who wandered away. The only new reader that I knew would come from FCBD wasn’t even in the comic shop. It was the son of the woman who was digging through the dollar manga bin with me. As I was snatching up volumes of Path of the Assassin, she asked me what would be good for her son. And I had no idea what to tell her! Hopefully, she picked up something good.

But hey, the day worked, right? That lady and I both wandered out with an armful of manga that we paid for. And Marvel found a fresh vein to stick it in. Yeah, I’m not going to be buying Amazing Spider-Man, but later that day I saw Misty Knight over a friend’s shoulder as he flipped through Heroes for Hire and immediately wanted to know what the character had been up to. Who was she loving? Where was she living? And much to my annoyance, I know I’m going to pick up the next issue of Heroes for Hire to find out—especially since I’ve stopped watching General Hospital and have been on the search for “comfort storytelling” to replace it.

Oh, one more thing! I’ve been checking out pages from Jennifer Blood over on Scans Daily and it looks like something that would be right up my alley. And yet when I saw it in the store, the cover was so off-putting that I couldn’t buy it. It irritated me just enough that I couldn’t pay money for it. So, I guess I’ll keep reading free snippets online.