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Words and Pictures

I came across two interesting pieces of news today.

First of all, DC Comics announced that it is lowering prices on its comic books. As an avid comic book reader, particularly of the DC Universe line, I'm mostly pleased by the announcement. However, there's a little more behind the story than just lower prices.

Last year, Marvel and then DC began raising the price on some of their comics from $2.99 to $3.99. Not all comics were affected by the price increase, but many were, and it made buying comics much more difficult, especially in this economy. DC tried to ameliorate the increase by adding backup features to their books, a delightful exercise in nostalgia, but even that didn't work very well for me.

Why? Well, because comic book storytelling has changed. When I first started reading comics, many more titles had one-shot stories, with only occasional multi-part stories running across many months. Even if a book was carrying a multi-part story, each issue had something of a self-contained tale in it; the multi-part story line was more like a story arc.

But nowadays, almost all comic stories are focused on the trade paperback market, which means that each issue you pick up is a serialized chapter in an ongoing story. I'm not saying that I don't like serialized fiction, but I sometimes wish more of the comics I bought would do an occasional one-shot every now and then. I want a little more variety back in my comics storytelling.

Also, although all the news is reporting that $2.99 will be the new price of the standard 32-page comic book, buried deeper in the new is that the number of pages of actual story, as opposed to advertisement pages, is dropping from 22 pages to 20 pages. Now, there's nothing sacred about the 22-page story, but this does mean (I assume) less money for writers and artists in the long run, since they get paid by the page. Also, it means writers will have to make some difficult decisions on how to take the stories or chapters they envision and recast them as 20 pages.

And don't let me put on my "old man" hat and start complaining about how I remember when comics first raised their price to 35¢. Someone else always tops me by recalling when their comics were only 10¢.

The other news story I ran across was this one: "Picture Books No Longer a Staple for Children" by Julie Bosman. It opens at The Children's Book Shop in Brookline, one of the stores where Nomi and I have gotten picture books for Muffin and Squeaker, so I had an immediate personal interest in the article. Apparently, parents are opting to start their kids on chapter books earlier, and skipping the picture book altogether.

I may have more to say about this in an upcoming column for a local news site (more on that special announcement later), but I think it's sad. We have literally been reading to Muffin and Squeaker since the week they were born, and they have come to love their small board books – which include pictures, of course. As the article points out, picture books are not necessarily simpler than chapter books, and I think kids who don't get picture books are missing out on one important aspect of their reading development – which is learning how to read comics.

Comments

Skipping picture books makes me sad. Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are was the first book I was able to read on my own, and I still love the book, the pictures, and the story. For a while I collected children's picture books, focusing on Sendak and Chris Van Allen (who writes odd books, but who has magical illustrations). Parents who skip over these books are doing their kids a grave disservice. I learned how to visualise what I was reading in chapter books from familiarity with picture books. And I think of "scenes" in books, because I really do see them in my mind's eye when I read them.
I saw that the number of story pages in those DC titles was going to drop. I didn't know that artists and writers were paid per page. And they're apparently cutting some of the cofeatures that follow the main storylines. Makes me sad.
Thanks for the news, on both counts...
It seems silly that comic book talents are still paid by the page instead of by the issue. I wonder if that applies to everyone. Do the people who sign exclusive deals ever get something more like a yearly salary?

I don't love that comics will be shorter, but I also think that a lot of comics are padded out by splash pages and extraneous dialogue. It's a disadvantage to creators in some ways (certainly economically), but it could be a chance to rethink page use in a better way.

The news about picture books is just sad. I say this as a comics reader, as someone who loves a really good picture book, as someone who cannot stand most of what passes itself off as kid lit, and as someone who works in a museum. Art literacy is important, but clearly some parents don't get that.
ISTM that comic-book prices, like pizza prices, used to pretty much track the NYC subway/bus fare. Both were 35 c| when I was in elementary school. But now $3-4, when a transit fare is $2.50? They've gotten a bit ahead of themselves. And then to cut story in favor of advertising? In that, they are tracking the NYCTA. This year we've had 11-17% fare hikes, and 10% service cuts, to try to balance the budget.

And the comic books aren't even profit centers for their producers, they're just tryout areas for the movies.

Re picture books: I read my first non-picture book about age 6, and that only after Dad had read the whole thing to me one summer. My niece (age 8) is plowing through the Harry Potters. She just started Book 6, which seems way above anything she could relate to - chemistry? snogging/dating? the horror of the horcruces?

The only mainstream comic I still read is "Captain America". And "Doctor Strange", whenever Marvel brings him up again. Besides that:
"Atomic Robo"
"HellBoy"
"B.P.R.D."
"Echo"
"AstroCity"

All of them basically are ongoing stories. Rather, the titles have stories that span about 5 issues, with a definite beginnin and a definite end. I like that, actually, and read the issues as they come out. Except for "HellBoy" and "B.P.R.D.", about which I've discovered it' better to wait until the full story has come out.
Forgot to mention that "Atomic Robo" this year involved one-shot stories, including one about what happened after Doctor Dinosaur's beer cooler blew up in Robo's face. An earlier year had a multi-issue story that began in the 1920s with Charles Fort & HP Lovecraft, and which ended in modern times with Carl Sagan zapping a timetravelling horror away with a big raygun.
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