Comic Fodder

The Best Monthlies That Sell More in Trades

This week we’re looking at a general pattern with books that aren’t from capes and tights of DC and Marvel. I pulled two samples that are great comics from the last month, both of which sell in modest numbers, but will do or already do great sales in terms of when they are published in trade format.

There are several reasons why new independent titles, even those driven by well-recognized creative teams, fare poorly in comparison on the monthly sales chart. The history of such efforts is littered with boom-and-bust, inconsistencies, late publishing, and cancelled series. A big example is Crossgen, a highly-publicized attempt to run a comic business like a major professional industry, complete with health care. A rich Mark Alessi took a stab at it, but overextended himself into things like producing moving CD comics for kids, and other stumbles. He committed the ultimate insult, and closed up shop before Negation War #4 came out, leaving readers out in the cold, never getting the end to the story.

Another factor is the budget. Most of us who are regular readers have already stocked up on our favorite monthly titles, and more often than not, that means we purchase Marvel and/or DC books. The books have a shared universe, and getting the trade for one title and the monthly for another means you’re going to be reading things out of the correct “time frame” in a shared universe, which simply won’t do. But we can’t just buy only trades, can we? Some do, but others need a monthly dose. So what normally happens is people blow their regular budget on Marvel and DC, and follow the adventures of multiple characters. For independent titles, a ton of us are much more apt to wait for a trade. That way, we get much more of the story all at once, and we don’t have to worry about crossovers or interlocking titles and all of that nonsense.

This situation potentially leaves independent creators in a tough spot. If the series doesn’t sell enough copies on a monthly basis, can they last long enough for word to get out, and build up a following through the trades? There may be some good books that can’t build up enough momentum to sustain themselves to that point. They have the tough decision to make: pour resources into a book nobody appears to be buying, hoping that trade sales will save you? Or admit that the attempt was a failure, and go try something else, realizing you could very well dig yourself a deeper hole when the trade sales do not materialize?

There are some titles that I still buy whenever they come out, and a monthly format serves them well. The new title Unwritten, for example, is under DC’s Vertigo imprint, and doesn’t tie in to another title. It’s a perfect candidate to collect in a trade. Yet I have found that the suspense fits into the monthly timing, and it gives me great pleasure to read that book in a limited, one-issue-at-a-time pace. Other titles like Astro City come out with scheduling delays historically, but they are so good I can’t wait for a trade to be assembled.

Comic fans face their own dilemma with these books. If I don’t buy the monthly, will a trade even come out? What if it gets cancelled quickly? What if I buy it now, but really wish I had waited for the trade when I’m done, because it reads better that way, or is cheaper? My suggestion for the latter is to buy the trade anyway, and pass the floppies onto someone else and see if you can add to the readership. Anyway, let’s take a look at two titles.

Astro City: Dark Age/Book Three #3

by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson, and Alex Ross

This is a book that has historically had scheduling problems, due to illness, real life, etc. But it’s one that I always look forward to reading. What the team does now is wait until almost all of a story arc is finished, and then they start hitting the shelves , so they actually have a stockpile of issues saved up, giving them time if they fall behind again. This makes the wait in between story arcs long, but better this way than getting issue #1 and having to wait four months for issue #2. Most comic stores only sell a modest number of issues when it starts its monthly publishing of an arc, but it sells a ton in trade format once it is put into the collected format. I don’t have the exact numbers with me, but from my interviews with different comic store owners, I have yet to find a single store that sells more monthlies than trades of this series.

The series itself is awesome, but my credibility is shot. I just got a letter published in the letter’s column in back of this issue. (That makes eleven total for me, for those keeping track.

…I’m the only one keeping track, aren’t I?)

Alex Ross makes sure to give it his very best for every cover of this title. The creative team has stayed the same since day one. Given their talents and the various opportunities that come their way, that’s actually slightly surprising, but it makes for a wonderfully comfortable atmosphere when you go to pick up the book, whether it’s the very first issue, or the newest one. Brent Anderson does the internal art, and he is a master at being able to create a sense of nostalgia with his pencils, but without seeming dated or irrelevant. He also draws everything that Busiek throws at him, which can mean a massive number of characters, and who-knows-what kind of backgrounds will be called for in a particular story.

Issue 3 gives us a great look at the Apollo Eleven, a team that already has a mystique to them, a mysterious sense of cosmic awe, perhaps due to (or in spite of) sparse appearances and references in previous issues. Pyramid is after their secrets, while E.A.G.L.E. is after the Pyramid organization (and wouldn’t it be hilarious if a criminal organization called the Pyramid had the structure of a multi-level marketing firm? But I digress…).

In the middle are two brothers, both on different life tracks, but with overlapping agendas and overlapping paths that grip you tightly. The story centers on them, but then the destiny of the Apollo Eleven entwines with theirs, and Anderson gives us a fantastic shot of some of the members of the super-group. Some of their number are held prisoner, and they are the last ones standing, here to break free their friends. It is a classic scene, and Brent Anderson renders it to give off an almost superhero Norman Rockwell feel, making it instantly recognizable, but avoiding a feel of cliché.

As much as you might want to see some of the battles that led up to this situation, you won’t. The emphasis is not on the regular fisticuffs, but on the things that happen behind the scenes, and sometimes above, below or to the side. Part of the charm of this book is that you know you can only get some teases of the action, but where in a regular comic you might feel cheated, as if a vital story beat had been left out, here it is part of the structure, and Busiek weaves the tale so you know what happened, you start to enjoy the teasing aspect of it, and quickly find yourself wrapped up in the “real” story. If I was ten years old, I would be begging for Astro City action figures, so I could use my own imagination to enact the parts that are left out.

Astro City is unique for me, because it’s the only series where I have collected every issue, but still gotten many of the trades. I lend the trades out to show people what is possible in the realm of comics, and I think there is just enough familiar in the veins of the story to strike a chord with anyone who has previously experienced comics, but with modern elements that will engage them, making this title a perfect ambassador to bring comics to people that will not normally encounter them.

But you can’t trust me, cuz I’m Astro City’s letter column slut. So you better go try it out for yourself to see more objectively if you like it.


Irredeemable 4

by Mark Waid and Peter Krause

Here’s a new series. It’s got a great writer, favorite of many, Mark Waid. It’s got artist Peter Krause, from Power of Shazam fame, and it’s cool to see his stuff again, because I’m pretty sure he’s been out of the game for a while (comics specifically, I mean; I doubt he ever stopped drawing, in some capacity). Alternate covers by John Cassady, Dan Panosian, and Jeffrey Spokes, just for this issue! Guess what? It’s been coming out on time, and there is already a schedule for the first trade to come out.

Preliminary inquiries tell me the monthly title is not selling a lot, even though we’ve got a superstar creative team with a good track record, relatively speaking. It’s an interesting idea, with a Superman archetype that experienced the negativity of a world that took him for granted, and like welfare dependents, demanded ever more of him, with nothing given in return. At some point, he turned bitter, then worse.

Now this guy, the Plutonian, is dong whatever he wants, and that involves a lot of mayhem and death. The remaining superheroes are trying to find his weakness, but it has already cost several of them their lives, and technically, the others could be dead too, but Plutonian seems to be playing with them like a cat.

The art and story are excellent for conveying the feeling of the characters, and at different times, you could feel a chill go down your back, you could relate to the unrelenting rage of the Plutonian, and at the same time, just a few pages later, you could feel pity at Qubit’s desperate, urgent pleading for mercy, as if by the strength of his plea alone and the rightness of his cause, he could change the rogue hero’s actions. This is how good it is: even as you read it and feel that, you also feel the same sick pit in the stomach with the knowledge that he is totally helpless, and his words cannot possibly force anything to change.

This is a glimpse of the bright future, and it looks much like the successful titles of the past. I predict this title will sale a TON of trades. If Mark Waid has a lengthy list of ideas that will maintain the quality of the story, this could turn into a long-running series, but sometimes the idea itself is only good for a certain number of issues. Regardless, I figure as long as it keeps coming out, trade sales will outpace monthly sales. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, although it might pose some problems and/or changes to the traditional monthly publishing schedule if the pattern keeps up for just a few more years. I hesitate to speculate just yet on what the comic landscape (webscape?) will look like.

But in ten years or less, it could very well look like nothing we recognize today.


Tpull is Travis Pullen. He started reading comics at 5 years old, and he can't seem to stop.

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