3.28.2011

Evaluating The Pull List


I’ve been mentioning for months now a growing perception that I’m not buying very much on a weekly basis. That feeling has certainly been supported by my annual statistics analysis regarding raw dollars spent, so it felt like time to do another one of these check-in lists. Here are the books I’m currently purchasing regularly, along with a few notes, caveats, exceptions, and some thoughts about what’s on the horizon:

Invincible Iron Man
Uncanny X-Force
Scalped
Wasteland
Northlanders
DMZ
Echo
Sweets
The New York Five

As it stands, that’s just 9 books that I’m currently buying with any semblance of regularity. By my totally subjective eye, 9 is a small number compared to what I used to be buying on a monthly basis, and it gets even smaller when you dig into it. The last two books on that list, The New York Five and Sweets, are mini-series which have just a single issue left, so let’s cross them off. While Echo has been an ongoing series, there’s just one issue left of that as well, so let’s remove it too. DMZ will be concluded in December. So if you discount all of those, we’re now down to just 5 books being regularly purchased. Wasteland has had a very erratic publishing schedule the last year or so; based on that I’m inclined to almost discount it based on not qualifying in the loose “regular monthly series” classification. Along those lines, I didn’t include the very worst examples of late-but-not-officially-cancelled books like Desolation Jones (which seems ludicrous to even consider now that WildStorm is no more), Fell (though Warren Ellis swears he’s working on the next issue) or Kabuki (though we don’t hear much from David Mack any more either way). We have to draw the line somewhere though and not speculate on technicalities, like what if the quality of Uncanny X-Force starts to slip and it gets cut, or what if something beloved like Scalped, Northlanders, or Wasteland were cancelled (gasp!), so let’s hold it there at 5. That seems reasonable.

As far as possible additions to the line-up based on what I see online or in Previews, there’s nothing much I know about that would be a guaranteed buy-on-sight sort of deal. Jonathan Hickman just announced The Red Wing at Image Comics later this year, a 4 issue mini I’ll likely pick up since I tend to enjoy his creator owned stuff, but at 4 issues that obviously won’t last long to boost my numbers. If Matt Fraction’s Casanova ever gets beyond the colored reprints and publishes new material, I’d be on board. If Batwoman ever truly comes out, I’ll be picking that up. Brian Wood had hinted in an interview about a new ongoing that would fill the gap in the line-up left by the departure of DMZ, so if/when it materializes, I’m obviously on board for that or anything else he might have in the pipe. Warren Ellis is always good for a mini-series or two per year, but none of these are very concrete at the moment. You also can’t count what you don’t know about, a new mystery book, something like a Wasteland coming out of nowhere that you’re instantly attracted too. Unknowns aside, you can see the problem here. As books are phased out of my personal line-up, they’re not being replaced by anything that could be characterized as a proportionate response.

I’ve never done this before, but even if I trying pad the list and bolster the numbers by capturing small press and mini-comics titles, it doesn’t really help. Most mini-comics just don’t function as ongoing series, and even fewer boast anything resembling a monthly schedule. It’s just the nature of the beast. So while I know for certain that I’ll be purchasing forthcoming issues of titles like Blammo by Noah Van Sciver, And Then One Day by Ryan Claytor, Trigger by Mike Bertino, Reich by Elijah Brubaker, or Jessica Farm by Josh Simmons, these books are quarterly or annual at best. In fact, I think Reich might actually be on hiatus, and Jessica Farm is actually only published every 8 years, so it hardly counts. Even if I do count a mystery Brian Wood or Warren Ellis project on the horizon along with one of these elusive mini-comics in an effort to artificially inflate the pull, it only pulls the total number from 5 to 7, which is still pitiful to me.

I feel like my regular weekly pilgrimage is hanging on by a frayed thread. Let’s be clear that I’m totally enjoying most of what I buy and I’m proud of the fact that I’m not buying a bunch of crap just to dismantle it with snark. Of course you can argue that this decline partially reflects things like a) the nature of the evolving industry, ie: the death of floppies and drive to OGN or collection editions, b) my loyalty to creators and not characters or properties, c) consumption of shorter term “special” projects stemming out of both those dynamics, d) less disposable income and thus decreased perceived value, and e) an actual decline in quality regardless of discretionary income. Judging solely at face value though, 5 regular monthly books purchased in weekly schleps to the LCS is nothing in comparison to the 10-12 books I’d purchase weekly just five years ago or so. You can argue this is a quality over quantity phenomenon or any matter of subjective criteria, but the bottom line is that it kinda’ bums me out. It’s almost as if I can feel a hobby just steadily slipping away and can envision a future in which weekly trips would just waste gas because I’m not actually buying anything. Maybe a monthly trip to the LCS would suffice, maybe trade-waiting for 30% off and free shipping with an online Amazon trip would suffice, maybe the single huge annual San Diego Con trip would suffice, or worse yet, maybe what would suffice is no trip at all.

5 Comments:

At 3:44 PM, Blogger Ryan Claytor said...

Hi Justin,

It's interesting to see you dissect your pull list here. It reminds me of your end-of-the-year purchase analysis, and you know I always enjoy those statistics. It's something I always wish I had the gumption to do.

However, your scrutiny of the numbers on this post seem a tad apocalyptic to me. I, too, have held on to a steady few monthly titles (probably equal to or fewer than your own pull), but with that said, I still can't keep up with my "to read" pile!

I guess I would side with the possibility of a changing market, from waning floppies to waxing trades. Not to mention the fact that I'll pick up a whole bunch of small press goodies whenever I go to conventions. As you mentioned, they're not exactly monthlies, but they do account for a large portion of my reading material, as I would suspect they do for you too (considering all your Poopsheet/Minicomic reviews).

So perhaps my weekly pilgrimage to the LCS tapered off a bit earlier than yours has, but I still make a concerted effort to get in a shop at least every two or three weeks to see what's new, if not for the monthlies then at least for the new trades.

On a slightly different topic, I was also a little sad to see you publicly advocate a switch to a corporate giant, like Amazon. I'm not saying that the big "A" is the end-all-be-all evil of the book industry (I certainly do a bit of shopping there, just like I'll occasionally duck into Walmart), but I DO consciously try to make regular visits to my LCS or find SOMETHING to purchase when I travel to a new shop. I don't have a lot of buying power, but what little I do have, I try to swing the way of the LCS. It would be a sad day, indeed, if they ceased to exist.

I look at shops like Challengers or Isotope or Tate's or 21st Century who are doing great and ambitious things for the industry and then I think of what a shell our industry would be without those progressive retailers.

So, while the weekly routine might be on the downward slope for you and me, I don't see that as an indication of a floundering industry or a lack of interest on my part. Creatively, I think comics are in a renaissance period. The perception of the medium is also changing. Heck, in the Fall I'll be teaching comics courses at THREE SEPARATE COLELGES! So, I guess I just wanted to add a little balance to what seemed like sort of an unfair post.

I don't want this to sound like a complete condemnation of your opinions, as I constantly find myself nodding in agreement with so much of what you write here. I guess it just took me aback when I read something that made me shake my head in DISagreement. So, in closing, I wanted to highlight an excerpt from this post that I think is important: the fact that you keep searching for high-quality material. I think you said something like, "I'm not buying a bunch of crap just to dismantle it." That's a commendable and constructive mission statement for comic reviewers. I applaud you for continuing to take the more admirable path.

Okay, how's that for a soap box rant? :) Now quite writing stuff I don't agree with. It takes up too much of my day. ;)

Ryan Claytor
Elephant Eater Comics
www.ElephantEater.com

 
At 4:54 PM, Blogger Justin said...

Ryan!

Hey, you were the one who told me I like dystopian post-apocalyptic stuff, so what did you expect? =P

Honestly, this probably was a slightly unbalanced view of things because I was intentionally focusing almost exclusively on the negative aspects in an effort to find supporting evidence to explain the dwindling pull list. I really do attribute it to a variety of factors, most of which you cite, especially the changing industry landscape that focuses less on long form ongoing series with stable creative teams. Timing is a factor too; depending on when I do one of these little check-ins, there could have been another 2-3 mini-series going, so that skews things a bit.

Part of my problem, as you know, is not having a superb LCS to deal with. When I lived in the Bay Area, I was happy to contribute to their revenue stream with regular impulse purchases at great shops like Lee’s Comics or Hijinx Comics. But throw in a less than stellar LCS, less discretionary income, and 30% off with free shipping at Amazon, and it’s hard not to lean on it a little more. For me, I always have around $100 in credit there maintained from trade-ins, gift cards, etc., so I’m not exactly coming out of pocket for most of my online “purchases” anyway, and that’s hard to quantify when I track it. Whew, I’m digressing…

Like you, I still feel like I have a pile of stuff to read, but the items consumed tend to be small press/minis or OGN style books, not necessarily serialized floppies. There’s a big shift there, which this list did focus on. I love comics and I love reading them, make no mistake, even a bad one! I’d rather read a bad comic than read no comics at all. While there is plenty of good stuff out there if you know where to look, my general sense is still just that I’m trying harder and harder and finding less and less that fascinates me long term, meanwhile prices are going up, etc. Anyway, good discussion as always!

Justin

 
At 11:15 AM, Blogger Matt C said...

An interesting article, Justin, as I seem to find my pull-list steadily rising! There are probably a few that I could jettison (and maybe an article of my own might be in order again) but on the whole I'm enjoying what I get. I know you're tastes skew towards small press whereas mine a far more spandex-based, but I'm sure there are some other mainstream books out there that you'd probably find to your tastes!

 
At 12:19 PM, Blogger Justin said...

Hey Matt,

Thanks for stopping by. Yeah, I certainly *want* to be purchasing more and think that I do sample from time to time... but when I pick up something like, I don't know, Secret Avengers or whatever, I like parts of it, but then start asking myself why the heck am I still buying this? It's not that good, it's nothing I'll want collected, and it's not something I'd probably ever go back to take the time and re-read. Anyway, not to pick on Avengers or anything, just a random example of the dynamic that I seem to repeat!

Best,

J

 
At 3:28 AM, Blogger Jobayed ODesk said...

Still during my years of working as a Network Documentation I have never been impressed when seeing the current Network Documentation of a given network, have you?

 

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