Crazy Rambling Short Story of the Day?! The War on the Public

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to a mad tirade is a complete coincidence. :)

Quick update, we have the WEDNESDAYS WORDS installment scheduled for tomorrow, that’s going to be a rough one, to get out on time. And I want to get up the MONARCHS OF MAYHEM interview with Charles Saunders for Thursday, which will push part two of 15 FAVORITE PULP HEROES into the weekend. So yeah just check back this weekend for part II.

But to give you pulp fans something in the interim, I bring you… The War on the Public! A mad, slightly quixotic rant (for those of you who’ve never seen me rant before… run away. The water is deep here, and in the words of Alan Moore, “the idea of a God… a real idea.” :)) :

CONDE NAST vs BLACK MASK – This is an oldie but an interesting read nevertheless about the first significant volleys in the war to eradicate public domain.

Here are some additional public domain links:

“Supreme Court Lands Final Blow Against the Public Domain! In Golan v. Holder (Jan. 18, 2012), the Court upheld the power of Congress to withdraw works from the U.S. public domain”

and

“What do we do now if Congress adopts a term of, say, life + 1000 years, or seeks to award a new copyright in Huckleberry Finn to Disney or to the Mark Twain estate?”

Public domain, public domain, public domain. Why is it disappearing? And Why should you care?

Well the first question is simple, it’s disappearing because people with money can make it disappear. It’s disappearing because of greed.

‘But’, you say, ‘there have always been rich people. and there have always been greedy people, so why is it disappearing now?’

Well it is disappearing now, because business has made such inroads into having the ear of our senate and house, and our courts, that the people who previously were elected to represent the citizens, are instead representing corporations.

The second question, “Why should you care?” I can’t answer that for you, I can only tell you why I care.

Now as a creative person and a writer, and as a friend of writers, I believe in copyright. I think it’s a great thing. But I also believe in Public Domain, and I think that is an equally great thing.

And I think before big business stepped in with their “more, more, more” mindset we had a perfectly workable compromise.

When I was coming up, public domain was very simple, after 50 years, a concept went into public domain

It became the property of the people. Of we, the people.

The writer doesn’t stop being the creator, he is still the creator, his or her name is still on the work. It’s just that after fifty years, his creation can be used by others.

The idea being that if an idea or concept has survived for 50 years that a/ it’s enough time for the creator to profit, sans competition, from the creation and 2/if people are still talking about a character or an idea 50 years later it has become part of the cultural conversation. It has become like an urban legend or a myth or a tale of Grendel and Beowulf, something that transcends the teller. Something that is part and parcel of a larger conversation and the basis for new creations.

(And notice I said people, Public domain is about insuring people, creators get compensated in their lifetime, it is not about ensuring the perpetual unending market share for an undying corporation. Why are companies, that don’t even have the welfare of this country at heart, given the right to lobby our representatives like citizens?

Companies that I can assure you don’t pay the percentage of tax that I do. I’d love to see Disney and Exxon and Shell paying 20% of their income a year in taxes. This nation would not have a deficit.

Corporations shouldn’t in a civilized world, have more rights than citizens. They don’t care about creators, they don’t care about this nation or any nation, they care about themselves. Which is fine if they are not drafting the laws for an entire nation, but they are, so their lack of concern for what is best for anyone besides them… becomes a problem.

A corporation without a sense of cultural and social responsibility… is a mob, to be watched, to be feared, and ultimately to be put down.)

That’s how culture and art works. New things building upon the old. And old ideas being re-imagined into the new. But the coming of the 21st century saw greedy companies rather than earn customers through the new, instead adopt a policy of profit through protection rackets, through intimidation.

So you get corporations lobbying for aggressive changes in the laws of copyright and trademark and patents. And suddenly public domain is an enemy for corporations to avoid and destroy at all cost, instead of what it should be, a necessary part of making old ideas the birth ground for the new.

Art doesn’t get made in a vacuum, it’s part of a continuing conversation. And we are made better for that open resource, for Universal Studios being able to do their version of Frankenstein or Dracula, and for Hammer Studios to be able to do their version, and for any writer or indie filmmaker to be able to do their version.

Without having to clear the usage of Mary Shelly’s concepts with Disney, or Bram Stoker’s concepts with Time Warner, anyone can do a Frankenstein children’s book, or produce a Dracula song or stuffed animal. And that’s wonderful, and cute, and beautiful, and healthy. So it’s about creativity, but it’s also about healthy commerce, and true free enterprise. Companies that want to generate wealth in a country, rather than just taking wealth out. And by Wealth I mean more than money, I mean the ability of people to be able to produce and own products of cultural recognition and interest, without having to pay tribute and protection money… to monopolies.

It’s especially galling to hear from these pompous companies, when the characters they are looking to lock down are, in many cases, popular inspite of them.

Who has kept the Shadow and Doc Sampson and even Spider characters viable? It wasn’t the bloody companies. The pulps and old time radio shows exist not because of the companies, that couldn’t erase the tapes and dispose of the pulps fast enough, it was the bloody collectors. These insane, lovely human beings, who threw together out of their own pocket, these things called conventions, at a time when a company’s initial response was, “Why are they talking about that lame, dead crap, come see my latest Disco Ball action figure! Look at the nerds still talking about the Shadow and Doc Sambo, or whatever his name is! Hey Nerds, the 1930s called they want their hero back! Ha! Ha! Ha!!”

:) (I just made myself chuckle)

Unfortunately much to businesses’ amazement, this old stuff, due to the passion of fans, actually had staying power. And if anyone has been to a movie theater in the last couple decades, monetary value.

However, as I’ve said before, it was the people, the collectors, the very obsessive types who corporations seek to criminalize today as filesharers, infringers, etc.,, that have saved and preserved much of the culture we now are able to still enjoy, that without them would have been lost.

I love the Old time Shadow radio shows, along with many other radio shows. Those shows, those great pieces of not just entertainment, but of art and culture and history largely exist, not because of Conde-Nast, or insert corporation here… those shows exist because rabid collectors, copied them off the air, made copies, and shared them down the years.

Same with the pulps. Same with silent movies, and sound movies, and film noir.

In the absence of companies finding a monetary value for something they destroy it. They erase over the tape of Doctor Who, they throw out the audio tapes of the Shadow, they burn original artwork of cartoonists.

Why? Because the number crunchers at companies, are not the creative people, they weren’t then and they aren’t now. They make decisions based solely on dollars and cents, and that tunnel vision is always flawed when dealing with work that is also about the imagination of man.

An ‘only Dollars and cents’ mentality will let what is quirky, and manic, and fun, and childish, and challenging in this world die. So these gentle angels of our nature survive because of people who love them. People like the owner of BLACK MASK. Rather than suing that man, Conde-Nast should have got down on their knees and thanked him.

Because he and his kind, collectors preserve these things, when Conde-Nast could not see financial gain to them. But in the wake of renewed interest from Hollywood at the end of the 20th century, and the gangbusters showing of comic and pulp related properties, suddenly everybody wants to sweep in and be the owner of old things made new.

Here’s the thing about public domain. It doesn’t stop you from making money if you have a good idea and a good product. So you don’t need to take Doc Savage or Shadow or Spider out of public domain, to do a book, or a movie, or a audio drama or a cartoon.

No one is stopping you. Build it and they will come. I don’t need to buy Spider Books or Shadow Books, however I do so all the time, when I see a great packaged product. However, if you’re a morally bankrupt company, that has no intention of putting out an attractive product, I can see how competition may not be for you. And you try to sue yourself into business rather than earning business.

And that is where we are at with these companies. They are so petty and greedy for every single penny, it is sickening.

Those…. bloodsuckers!! (Sorry, couldn’t resist! :) )

Disney’s one of the biggest companies in the world, they can throw around 200 million dollar movies, like you and I throw around nickles, and yet they are afraid to death if a grade school kid creates and passes out her mickey mouse comic.

You can not have it both ways. You can not want something to be culturally iconic and generational, yet remain proprietary and exclusionary. No. We are creatures raised to spread stories over an open flame and for that story to travel from person to person, being changed by each person, owned by each person, passed on by each person, and becoming changed and new and different with each telling.

If you look at all the martial arts, they are pretty much the same art, changed over time, and over region. And we as a culture are better and stronger and richer for that migration, that cross pollination, that cross ownership… we are better for having silat, kung-fu, aikido, hapkido, capoeira, savate, kenpo, krav maga, systema… etc., we are better for free association, no fences, open source, public domain.

We have always been better for it. But now in the last few decades, fences are being put up by a few gatekeepers, on everything. And that cannot stand.

It is an unsupportable policy/mindset, utter control of the culture, art, and interactions of a mass of people by a few outside those people. There is a name for that, and it has always been the same name.

Because if you think that it is a nightmare and an outrage just getting rights to a song to use in your film or project or play, imagine wanting to do your short film of Poe’s TELL TALE HEART, and being told you have to get that approved through Disney, and if they approve you, fees start at $500000.

You wouldn’t have a filmmaker like Roger Corman, if the copyright and trademark environment of today was in existence yesterday. And then you lose all his Poe films, you lose all his collaborations with Vincent Price, you lose his part in the ascension of creators like Nicholson and Howard and Coppola. And who knows what we all lose for loss of those mad, creative cranked out Gothic films.

All that because one man was allowed to follow his muse without crippling interference or exorbitant costs imposed by ‘rights’ holders. How many possible Cormans are we killing, in multiple fields, today? Killing them because we are allowing dinosaurs to sit on our shared cultural conversation and art like a dragon sitting on eggs.

Doc Savage is public domain. Superman is Public domain as much as Robin Hood. Batman is public domain. The Shadow is public domain. Fifty years is a good run for exclusive rights to profits. None of this nonsense about renewal of copyrights, or trademark used to get around expired copyright.

[And speaking of trade-mark. MARVEL and DC have 'jointly' trade-marked the term 'Super-Hero". What is that about? So tomorrow do you trade mark the term 'hero' or 'myth' or god'? Do you trademark the term God? Who is at the trademark office just handing out the rights to every word in the dictionary to the highest bidder?

They haven't begun invoking it yet, their 'super-hero' trademark, largely because I think they are waiting for some of the smaller comic companies to fold up shop, and don't want a challenge to come up when their hand isn't strong enough. But Like Microsoft, make no mistake, they will give it away for free today, to set themselves up to own the market share and charge you through the teeth tomorrow.

All you small comic-book companies need to come together and publish one big omnibus anthology called 'Best Super-hero Tales' or something, and get that trademark challenged and thrown out today. Now while the challenging is good. and all the old creators they are waiting to die before they can bring evidence, are still around. Because if you don't, mark my words, ten years from now anyone who wants to use the term 'Super-hero', in the title to anything, will have to pay for the pleasure.]

I’m not saying companies can’t continue to sell and market their items past the 50 year mark, but what I am saying is that everyone else can produce their take on that idea as well.

(Quick aside here… A word on this copyright extended to 70 years after a writer’s death nonsense. Who the heck does that benefit, if not the money grubbing corporations? Did someone just say ‘the family’?

This isn’t about your family, fool! :)

Your family can make money, sell books, shoot movies, whether or not your book is in the public domain. We all know, the rights to a writer’s work ends up snatched up by the publisher. And with only about half a dozen conglomerates owning all the book publishing divisions as it is, that’s a troubling proposed consolidation of intellectual property.

See, what we’re talking about is every work after 1923 [that is the date today, tomorrow they might push it back to works in copyright being only stuff before 1823], all the accumulated wisdom, and hopes, and dreams, and pathos, and joy, and horror, and striving, and yes fighting against oppression of millions upon millions of writers, being owned, with this continued push toward extermination of public domain, the wealth of the world… owned by half a dozen oligarchies. What greater betrayal could there be? To any writer, to every writer. To have the work of the most imaginative, and moral people (which is what on a whole, I find writers to be), owned by people bereft of either imagination or morality.

And to that plan, of mad, sick twisted companies, their dream of a world devoid of public ownership, I say the only thing I can say, the only thing a life-time of loving books has taught me to say to such over-arching presumption and tyranny. I say… no. )

Public domain can work for all

Disney will still have Mickey Mouse, but if Tarantino or Seth Green or anyone wants to do a Mickey Mouse movie, they can. I’m not saying DC/Time Warner can’t still make Batman or Hulk comics or movies, but I’m saying past 50 years from date of creation, so can everyone else. How about a Batman movie by Werner Herzog or a Superman tv series by the Hughes Brothers?

Both those ideas just made me chuckle.

I can’t say you won’t get your share of train wrecks with such freedom, but you’ll also get get your share of wonders. You’ll get Baz Luhrmann’s Shadow next door to Branagh’s Doc Savage. And we are made richer when we can build on the culture we grew up in, rather than this new corporate policy of paying tribute to entrenched monopolies, Disney’s Culture or Time Warner’s culture.

This is very much a land grab, but not land rights this time, not water rights, not airwave rights (which they recently removed from Americans), this is about dreams… being fenced off.

We are on a perilous path. When I think of how much we have lost in the 6 years since Conde Nast sued BLACK MASK out of existence, it gives me pause. Because it is very much a culture where only the few will own anything, that we are pushing toward.

Not software, not hardware, not books, not houses, not music, not comics, not land, not our airwaves, perhaps not even our food or our air, do we get to own. Where everything we interact with is rented to us, is timed, our reactions to it… judged, to insure they are in acceptable non-infringing levels.

That is the end of culture my friends.

Fiction you say?

Yes… Fiction, I say.

Want to learn more?

Want to fight? You? Want to fight? After all I told ya Boy, ya want to fight the dragons of the world?! Swing at windmills like your uncle HT?!!

Aye, you bring a tear to an old man’s eyes. Aye, if I had five more like ya, I could ride into hell and put out all the fires! :)

Well get ya some education first boyo, read the following takes on public domain:

It’s a start.

OPEN RIGHTS- Ah, I love these passionate, mad Brits.

CR Fight ArticleYet another Brit! Where the hell are the Americans working to repeal copyright extension! Hold on, I’m still looking.

EFF- Ah, here’s the beloved Yanks! Over there! Over there! And the Yanks are coming! The Yanks are coming! Over there! WHAT??? Don’t you guys watch James Cagney musicals?!!

Stanford Overview of copyright

CR article

Public Domain info

OKFN

Digital Revolution: Discussing the Greedy and the Ungoverned, And Entertainment as prelude to War!


I feel a rant a’ coming.

You new to the blog may want to skip this one. You old timers… jump in… the water is like you like it, deep and treacherous. :) .

Or be mollified by the following disclaimer:

This is an imaginary story. The following is all fiction except for the parts that are true… I leave you to determine the one from the other…

*********

There are a lot of great things about the digital revolution, not the least of which is the ubiquitousness of content. Which makes this sense of foreboding I have about the coming bad, a bit troubling.

I think you have… to have been around before cable, before on demand, before 500 channels, before DVD or CD, before Internet household presence, before even the home computer to truly appreciate just how amazing are the strides made in many areas, not least of which is the creation and dissemination… of entertainment and information.

If you are a movie fan you can, without leaving your house, have at your viewing pleasure just about every film made in the last 100+ years of cinema. More, you can have films from multiple nations, multiple languages easily subtitled into your language.

As a film fan who was around during the age of VHS, I remember that just locating a cult or foreign film was a HUGE production. You had to find those resellers/stores often in the back of magazines, send away for the catalog, then order the film.

And with the Internet it made that search a bit easier. Allowing you to stumble across someone’s site who had a VHS movie you were looking everywhere for. And you would get the VHS tape, and it would be a third generation, copy of a copy, really not good quality, but at the time— you were just elated to have it, and be able to see this film that you couldn’t find anywhere else.

It was that way with everything: Books, records, cassettes, lps, and then Laserdiscs DVDs and CDs. The Internet being a huge way for resellers to connect with buyers. And fly by night companies came and went.

But a few questionable startups, Ebay and Amazon among them, grew legs and found themselves not just a fad, but soon a fixture of this Internet phenomenon. And all these shaky startups, these microsofts and apples …these cowboys that proliferated in a time before software patents and lawsuits to stifle competition, began to thrive.

Suddenly content in digitized formats, and the explosion of storage capacity created an age of ready access, on demand availability, of almost everything.

Great. Wonderful. Beautiful. I mean this has allowed for the rise of podcasts, one of the greatest audio revivals since the dawn of radio. And if you’re an Itunes or Hulu or Archive.org patron, it’s just opened up the history of entertainment to anyone with an Internet connection and the desire to explore. That’s the great part, That’s the wonderful part of the digital revolution.

Here’s the bad part. The digital revolution is not being driven by quality concerns or for love of the medium, it is being embraced by decision makers because of two reasons 1/cost savings and 2/control.

I understand both those things in moderation, but moderation is a word that business doesn’t really practice. Cost savings has come to mean some suspect things, two of the most disturbing is the replacement of physical media, and part and parcel of that… is the elimination of the reseller.. the middleman.

I like resellers, I like mom and pop shops, I like middlemen, and I think gearing an economy to do away with that whole part of the conversation, is to gear the economy to in essence do away with a middle class of any kind. It is gearing an economy toward those who own and those who work and pay— landowners and serfs with no middle ground.

And a lot of people think nothing of it, because it’s just book stores, or comic stores, or DVD stores closing. But let’s extend the same thing to McDonald’s.

What if automation tomorrow allowed McDonald’s to do away with the middleman, the franchises?

What if they could get the food to you the consumer without going through a middleman? Say click a button on your laptop, and the food teleports into your hands, whatever. Stay with me here. Because technology gives you the ability to do something, should you do that thing? Is that thing necessarily the best thing for your company, your customer, your economy?

That’s a heck of a question, and I don’t pretend to have the answers. But what I’m saying when it comes to the digital revolution with books, dvd, cds, and the thousands of stores and businesses and millions of employees we are making obsolete, I feel as though no one is even asking the obvious questions, among them… ‘Should we do it this way?’

I feel big business is not looking beyond their own pockets, to see see what is best for their customers and their country. And that’s a very nationalistic thing to expect of a company, to think in terms of their country. But considering our congress in its infinite wisdom allows companies to actually have a say in drafting the laws of a country, ie basically gives to companies greater rights than citizens, I think it’s not too much to ask from those companies the loyalty of citizens.

And those companies that cannot, for whatever reason of conflict or commerce, think in terms of what is best for America— should not have the right to lobby our Congress and make laws for America.

So I view these companies making these grandiose and sweeping changes to America, without regard for the good or ill it will bring… as a great danger for our nation. For any nation. To have someone who has no concern for your nation, making policy in your nation… leads us to the world outside our door.

From gas at $4 a gallon to Americans struggling to keep their homes.

And entertainment is part of it as well.

The elimination of physical media plays into this, creating a market where there is nothing to resell, and worse… nothing to really own. So no need for your favorite DVD reseller, because DVDs are being prepared for the pasture.

You want to view this film, you buy it digitally from the studio for the price they set, and in the absence of any ability to resell– their price is unmoderated by a free market. In other words they can charge whatever they think the market can bear.

While a lot of people embrace this idiocy that a company’s only priority is to generate more income for their stockholders, that’s flawed thinking that led to our recent market melt-down. It comes back to what I said, about a company working withing a nation, has the same inherent priorities as a citizen within that nation…and that is to do no harm to that nation.

And more and more, the actions of companies working within sovereign shores is to do nothing but harm, is to shatter economies, devastate populations, victimize neighborhoods. Actions that if done by someone not hiding behind the mask of incorporation… we would call… acts of terror.

I’m saying that the joys of itunes today, and Amazon kindle today, and digital comics today, and Warner on Demand today, extrapolated on their 25 year plans into tomorrow… points the way to an America completely shorn of any gradations between the few ultra rich oligarchies and the masses of struggling poor.

I’m saying a war of economies, without fail… drives far more literal and bloody wars.

I’m saying don’t be so quick to jump on the bandwagon of eliminating DVDs, eliminating CDs, eliminating physical books, eliminating middle men— because you’re going to find that in a society shorn of middle men to moderate the greed and abuses of those on the top to those on the bottom, the joys of immediate gratification today, will spell the horrors of rampant price gouging, inflation, and poverty tomorrow.

And in the absence of true ownership (digital, in reality of how it is disseminated, being something that is rented… not owned), suddenly you may find those 99cent prices give way to $99 dollar prices, when you have allowed them to destroy or outlaw all other ways of you getting that product.

And how long before some products, are deemed unacceptable to make viewable via streaming or priced out of being readily available for viewing.

Historically, ethnically diverse items are oft at risk for obsolescence through marginalization. The most politically active films of Ousmane Sembene (CEDDO, CAMP DE THIAROYE, and GUELWAAR) never received DVD releases in his lifetime, and to this day are still not available on DVD (THIAROYE had a spotty release before disappearing).

Rather than freeing films and filmmakers from the tyranny of commerce (which digital has the potential to do), under the auspices of the greedy and the ungoverned you’ll see more marginalization and more control over the ideas disseminated to the masses.

So the lesson? Not to allow these companies, Itunes/Apple, Sony, Disney, Microsoft, Netflix, Time Warner, etc… to be ungoverned.

And how much is our entertainment a smokescreen for our aggressions? How much is our entertainment, the last, best drug, or the last, best cheerleader, for the aggressions of our time?

And how much do our aggressions allowed, ignored, take out of America?

The reports of America’s decline are rampant. They are in every aspect of our everyday life, the skyrocketing inflation that has destroyed many a nation before America, is all throughout America.

But our eyes in America, are filled and dazzled and misdirected… by such false fire, that the obvious becomes… indistinct. Almost invisible.

But not quite. If you take the time to look, the signs are there.

In-fact once you are looking in the right direction, (‘got my mind right boss’) the signs are clear and present. America is well on the way to becoming a third world nation, it is being pushed to these ends.

I said pushed.

With your tax dollars, and the blood of your children… the rich have just spent the last few decades pacifying (ie invading and toppling) African/Middle Eastern nations and carving a new western acceptable pleasure nation for themselves, an entertainment nation, where all the studios are in a hurry to setup shop, and a middle East Disney World and Marvel World and all the 3D rides and luxury and cinematic excess you can want is being built there. It is called Abu Dhabi, this paradise, and it is being built over the bodies of the massacred.

Infact, a cynical man might even say it’s very similar to the way, in the wake of World War II, the allied forces led by the US and Britain, set up the Israel state, by pretty much massacring the millions of Jews and Arabs and Nomads, who already lived in that region.

And yeah I did say Jews. We weren’t just killing Arabs to setup Israel. The region was already home to Jews, who lived without issue, for generations next door to Arabs. Unfortunately most of them weren’t Western acceptable Jews, they weren’t European Jews… that is to say they were Black.

So these Jews, and Arabs, and Nomads woke up one day to find the rest of the world was calling their home Israel, and they weren’t invited to the house warming. And then the missiles came.

So similarly the Middle East we’re bombing into existence today, is being done so, over blood both ancient and irreplaceable. All so that the rich have a place to vacation… while America burns.

I’m such a cheery, glass half full guy aren’t I?

But seriously, it begins simply. As all our falls do.

It begins with a laugh.

With you laughing with them. With the ones who will eviscerate you.

It begins with us rolling over the simple rights of the many for the grandiose greed of the few.

So… don’t make it easy.

Resist.

At every step, ask of them and ask of yourself… ‘Who profits from this and who loses?’. And by your answer to that question, will you know the nature of your nation and the nature of yourself.

And by your answer to that question… be ruled.

Here endeth the lesson.

******************

Woah! Only here on this blog, can you go from digital disenfranchisement to the fall of nations. :) And even crazier is— the line between the two should be ridiculous, it should feel far-fetched. It should feel… ludicrous.

But it doesn’t.

It should feel like a laugh. But it doesn’t.

It I have to be perfectly honest, it feels like…

It feels like we’re running out of time.


On DC Comics New york Comic Con 2010 News! Zuda Comics and Milestone comics! Price changes and more! Pt 1 of 2!

Well had hoped to be partaking of New York Comic Con goodness today, I had even prepped a nice itinerary of panels and events, but some last minute snafus got in the way. But (hopefully) that just means I get to bring you the Sunday perspective rather than Saturday, and with Sunday typically calmer, it should allow me to bring you some interesting coverage.

Plan is to head out in the AM so I can crash the Sunday Convention doors when they open. We’ll see how well that plan pans out. :)

But what I can bring you in the interim, is a bit of feedback on the first 2 days of the New York Comic Con (coverage/news has been surprisingly light), and following that offer a slightly sleep deprived, yet heartfelt questioning on what’s going on with DC Comics. Okay… onto the ranting :) :

Home and the Grace of God

ComingSoon.Net- Has a 5 page gallery of pictures from the con. Uhhh— don’t know who their photographer is, but you are at one of the nations biggest cons and all you can think to take pictures of is toys and props???? Wow. Either that’s the most boring con ever, or ComingSoon needs a new photographer. :). Judge for yourself.

Newsarama- True to their name is on the ball with coverage of various panels. Though the bit of news that got my attention was DC’s price drop, dropping their price from the insane $3.99 price point back to the nearly as insane, but just this side of acceptable $2.99 price point.

Now the following stance is primarily regarding the physical form of comics. But drop a $1 off the pricing and the stance is valid for the digital form of the product. For more on my take on tangible versus digital, go here.

I guess their shrinking sales figures woke them up to the fact (a fact that just about everyone told them before they embarked on the path) that $3.99 (ie $4!!) for a couple dozen pages of paper that will take you ten minutes to read… is not good value for your money.

Ideally I’d like to see the big two comic book companies (Marvel owned by Disney and DC owned by Time-Warner) pick up and run with Warren Ellis’ Slimline/Fell model of pricing… $1.99. That’s the price-point you need, particularly in this economy where the Average person’s salary is stagnant or decreasing, to not only maintain existing reader interest, but to create a viable entry price point for new readers.

Now I’m not crazy that DC is cutting 2 pages of story, 20 rather than 22 pages, to bring the price-point back to $2.99. So they are pretty much screwing the people who were just getting $2.99 books, which was pretty much everybody. So to look at this another way you’re still forcing an across the line price increase by reducing the content for the regular $2.99 books, while still asking a $2.99 price tag for them.

Crap! That makes me mad.

Leave it to DC, to make a necessity, lower prices or lose market share, yet another way to screw the consumer.

I think it reeks of unhealthy quibbling from one of the more public faces of a multi-billion dollar conglomerate. I mean seriously, you’re going to stiff us across the line for 2 pages.

Johns, Dido, Lee, Wayne… (a company with entirely too many titles, and too few people really willing to steer the ship), are you watching this?! Great Caesar’s ghost! If we’re losing 2 pages across the line, kick the darn price down to $2.50!

Sigh.

I was taken in by this announcement until I really started thinking about it.

I mean don’t get me wrong it is a start. It’s a start… an underhanded, devious, greedy, backstabbing, slimy, smarmy, odious and stinky start. But it’s a start.

Now all they have to do is publish some books worth buying, and I might jump back on the DC bandwagon.

Oooh, riled a few of you huh?!

Here’s the thing, I’m not a DC basher. I like DC.

While Marvel was the comic company that, like most kids my age, galvanized my attention in my youth; heading into my teenage years it was DC who had picked up the coming challenge of the direct market and a more mature customer base and gave us a very sophisticated and yes literate body of work, in an amazingly short amount of time.

Wolfman and Perez’s NEW TEEN TITANS (look at that great cover! We’ll discuss in a minute how current day DC comics have a hard time producing great covers), Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen’s LEGION OF SUPERHEROES, Moore, Bisette and Totleben’s SWAMP THING, Miller’s DARK KNIGHT and YEAR ONE, Baron and Guice’s THE FLASH , Englehart and Joe Staton’s run on THE GREEN LANTERN, O’Neil and Cowan’s THE QUESTION, DeMatteis and Giffen’s JUSTICE LEAGUE, (preceded by the equally good run by Gerry Conway and Luke McDonnell on the closing issues of the JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA) and of course Wolfman and Perez on CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS. All those books in relative spitting distance of each other and in many ways they still define what is best in this medium we call comics.

Those runs are memorable touchstones to a lost holy grail, that to this day, companies are still mining for, still trying to recapture. Not least of all DC itself.

DC

Here’s the thing I’m aware from podcasts that DC has quite a few talented creators out there, and some are doing good books. Some are doing FANTASTIC books! DC has one of the best creators, in my opinion, working in comics today in Mark Chiarello, Art Director (as of this writing) of DC Comics. His SOLO and his WEDNESDAY COMICS, in a time where the height of creativity or thinking outside the box in comics, was Zombie variant covers, or killing/resurrecting characters, are two projects, that continue to blow my mind. Just inventive, thinking out the box audacity. And that he’s also am amazing writer and artist (His Negro League cards are STUNNING!) in his own right, just makes it all the more odd that DC doesn’t just turn over the keys to him.

But they don’t.

Instead DC seems to be retreating from very innovative concepts and growth, growth that seemed to have been building up to a watershed of creativity perhaps akin to that 80s period I mentioned, but seemingly forestalled in what can only be seen as a homogenization of what was becoming an ethnically diverse line.

DCs problem today is the same problem that has always been an Achilles heel of comics. Braindead marketing, and over-saturation/flooding of the market.

“Oooohh. One Batman book is good. That mean’s 16 Batman titles would be great!” No you stupid, stupid men. Multiple titles of the same character introduces confusion into your consumers and into the brand. While you will always capture the one moron, with too much disposable income, who will buy, and probably not read, all 16 titles. Historically, and today currently, what happens instead is for that one who will buy into your gouging ploy, you have 600 people like me who will look at these 16 different Bat titles, scratch their head, and say I can’t be fucking arsed to figure out what title is the ‘good’ Batman title.

And I understand, that with so-called 2nd string titles not selling as well, the impetus is to go with a name, go with a name, go with a name. The problem with that is at $4 a pop, no one is going to experiment on a 22 page comic. At 60cents and 75cents I could take a risk on something called SWAMP THING or $1.25 on something called THE QUESTION. But DC, all comic companies have largely priced themselves out of the impulse buy market. At $4 the book has to offer a definite great experience for the reader’s money. In terms of both story, art, character, and payoff. And typically that’s a lot to ask of a new character where the first several issues is about building the character. And that’s a lot to ask of Dc, in particular, because DC cover artiist, for the most part, not very good. Anytime DC gets a halfway decent artist, Marvel swoops in and steals him away, till you look at today, and DCs covers for the most part look like garbage. The tradedress, the actual art, it’s just not something that wouls impel me to stop, pickup the book, and flip through it. If the cover artist sucks, I can only imagine how bad the interior art is.

I refuse to believe Mark Chiarello is signing off on these covers. But whoever it is, needs to tighten up the ship, because fault Marvel for what you will, but their books, their cover artists… are AMAZING! Like I said, I don’t even buy Marvel Comics with the exception of Brubaker’s CRIMINAL, but if I did I would be drawn to these marvel books.

Why is CRIMINAL the only Marvel/Icon book i buy?

Well, because I don’t buy individual issues that don’t come with a letterspage and/or backmatter/ additional conversational type material. One of the reasons I was such a huge fan of books such as FELL and GUTTSVILLE (Holy Hell I miss that book! Two of the most innovative, beautiful and brilliant books of the 21st, smothered to death by that little flooding the market thing I’m talking about) is because they offer this deeper insight into the material. in the case of Brubaker’s CRIMINAL it’s even more amazing material.

So yeah that’s why. If you can’t be bothered to put together a Stan’s Soapbox style bit for your readers, or do a letters page, I can’t be bothered to pay for your effing book.

However all things being equal, if Marvel and DC were to reinstate letters-pages/back-matter, and get the ads out tof the story, based on the quality of the Marvel artists and to some degree writers, I would clearly be buying Marvel comics.

While it’s inane to let a cover be the sole judge of a comic, this is a graphic medium, so the cover means a bit. It’s the resume that gets you in the door, or the hands of the reader, and it should impress.

Marvel Comics, from trade dress to actual artist, typically rocks.

DC typically sucks.

Examples?

Damn take your pick of nearly any DC comic released this month. Such as:

This is your flagship title, right? You couldn’t tell it by this cover. You could barely tell this is a JLA title. You make the title all but invisible? Really? It’s just piss-poor trade dress design. And the central image conveys and illicits no interest what so ever. No art director should have signed off on this.

This is a good artist, however the central image doesn’t really convey much. The Rebel’s title and trade dress doesn’t help to give any kind of interest to the cover. It’s the type of cover that in the old days would have been saved with a word balloon or caption, but evidently DC can be bothered these days with little things, like making their covers sell-able.

Honestly do I even have to point out how bad this cover is. And me not reading DC comics, this is my first time seeing the costume all the podcasters were talking about. I really have no stake in the character, so change away. But make it good, that costume is utter garbage. Beyond that the art just looks… awkward. I’m not sure if she’s preparing to fight or having some type of hemorrhoid attack. :).

Here are 3 more cover images, that just don’t cut it.

The DOOM PATROL central image is actually good, but the trade dress just does nothing to make it exciting. It’s just floating in a sea of boredom. The FLASH image is busy, but busy in a bad way, it’s just not engaging or interesting, but at least the Trade Dress, typography brings some interest to the image. Just not enough to overcome the weakness in the central image.

THE FLASH has some of the best covers ever, it has to do with artists with a great sense of design and placement, as well as a great color scheme, and finally fantastic typography, captions, and word balloons, a life and energy that is mostly missing from this modern issue.
So DC has only itself to blame that it’s new characters find a steep slope to acceptance. Even at $2 I’m open to dropping $5 and picking up 2 books a week. But when $5 will barely get you one book/story, and typically that $5 experience of piece of story is unsatisfying at best.

SUPERGIRL- I’ve heard nothing but good things about this Super-Girl run, but based on this cover alone, I would never pick up the book. Again the central image itself isn’t particularly bad, it’s just not particularly anything. And once again DCs lack of trade dress, typography, just calls attention to the fact that something is lacking.

How is it with nearly 80 years of comic covers to learn from, people still can’t get it right?

Marvel however, really has not only great artists, but as importantly they understand typography and the effective use of typography and cover organization. Bendis was well known for this with his POWERS work. Some examples of Marvel getting it right? (these are from the same month as the DC ones above):

The above Marvel images speak clearly for themselves.

Marvel just kicks ass on these covers (and this statement comes from me Heroic Times, someone who for the most part has turned his back on Marvel monthly comics)! Marvel has those stunning, painterly artists, such as Simone Bianchi that DC simply can’t hold onto.

Marvel is no less culpable than DC with their 6 THOR or 8 AVENGERS titles, but each issue looks orders of magnitude better than their DC counterparts. And Marvel seems, to come to each cover witn a sense of design and layout, for the most part lacking in the DC titles.

George Perez is still cranking out some masterpieces for DC. Relative newcomer Sami Basri , is knocking it out of the park with POWER GIRL (And if DC doesn’t pay this guy, I predict he’ll be the next artist Marvel takes away from them. He’s that good. Look at his cover to issue #16 of POWER GIL, a great use of negative, a great understanding of creating images that speak), as well as Alina Rusa’s attention grabbing cover to BOP.

But these are exceptions to DC’s rule of rather tired, boring, uninspired covers. Marvel on the other hand, while no less event heavy, and just as guilty of flooding the market, you get the sense it’s a rather cohesive vision driving the Marvel machine, and for the most part it really is creator and quality driven. With DC you get the sense it’s mostly editorial mandates, that tend to be a scattershot approach, and that quality across the board is more miss than hit.

Yet given all this, DC still looks to the consumers for the reason their books aren’t selling. The books aren’t selling first and foremost because they are too expensive. And two because, the DC comics I’ver read in the past few years, individual issues, just aren’t very good, even if they were $2, for giving you a good reading experience. The JLA is supposed to be the flagship title for DC, and in the last few years, they’ve been unable to get anyone excited or interested in these comics.

Part of this, most of this is, particularly with Dwayne McDuffie… editorial interference. I have yet to interview Dwayne McDuffie, but the sense I get was he was courted by DC, following his HUGELY successful JLA UNLIMITED series (which got the JLA absolutely right and is the best they’ve been in any medium in years) and given JLA, mainly to weasle the rights to MILESTONE away from him (more on Milestone in a bit). And once that was done he was pretty much saddled with crippling editorial interference, and a less than stellar art team, until he was pretty much shooed off the book.

So when a company’s flagship books are saddled with high prices, and poor, unsatisfying story and art, very few are going to risk dollars with secondary characters or untried characters from this company. It’s why I think ideas like Chiarello’s SOLO and WEDNESDAY COMICS, somewhat of a reinvention of the company’s SHOWCASE roots, are potentially the future of the medium. A monthly flagship title, containing a mix of classic and new characters, with letter pages, and back matter, and a real conversation like comics of old, with popular characters being spun off into their own titles.

The alternative is the diminishing returns model of current comics.

To be continued….