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Beatzo’s Comics Theory 101

I was thinking of replying to bloggolb‘s Query, on my rant about Pavitr Prabhakar, the Indian version of Spiderman. The question was – in case you don’t want to use the link (I wouldn’t if I were you, it takes an awfully long time to load ) – Granted, that you do not like Pavitr Prabhakar and what Kang has done, but if Gotham comics gives you the carte blanche on creating the Indian version of spidey, what would you do differently? And why ?

Well, for starters, let me make it clear that this is going to be a rant. You have full permission to snicker and say “Fanboy!”, I shall not complain.

Non-earth shaking statement #1: If Gotham Comics gave me carte blanche on creating the Indian version of Spiderman, I would make sure there wasn’t an Indian version of Spiderman. There are already too many versions of Spidey around to confuse the heck out of a reader, and you don’t need one from India too..

Non-earth shaking statement #2: There are a lot of things that can be done to create a comics “scene” in India.

Bear with me. I am about to expound on statement#2. This won’t be a complete answer to bloggolb’s question, just some lame thoughts.

Part One: The good things Gotham has been doing:

For starters, the pricing structure is reader-friendly. Fifteen rupees for single issues, twenty-five rupees for a “double” issue, and 90 rupees for Super-Specials, which are 6 issues of stories tied together, much better than the 700 rupees-and-above price of imported Trade Paperbacks.

There has been a strong consistency in the publishing schedule. Gotham has kept putting out comics on a very steady level, very rarely skipping monthly deadlines. They have also been reprinting a broad spectrum of titles, ranging from the black and white Conan ( mostly reprints of the seventies’ Marvel editions ), Dark Horse’s licensed Tarzan miniseries, to mainstream DC titles like JLA and Superman, and the best of the Marvel Ultimate line. A large number of Cartoon Network titles for the kids – familiar names like Johnny Bravo and Scooby Doo and Dexter’s Laboratory.

Continuity, which, in my opinion is the main reason why new readers don’t get into comics in the first place. You cannot just start reading a Superman story and find out that the President of the United States is Lex Luthor ( not anymore, though), without having at least a brief knowledge of what went before. Maybe this is why people still read Phantom. Because every Phantom comic begins with “For those who came in late…” and you know where you stand. Gotham fumbled at first, it’s reprints a mishmash of eighties’ stories and the latest storylines, but after a time, it settled down in a groove. Of late, it’s taken to reprinting storylines that went by just a year ago. The Hush story, for instance. Or Superman: Birthright. Ultimate Spiderman.

Finally,Gotham studios, which started off with a very tall promise – that of harnessing the upcoming writers and artists who are interested in creating comics. Jeevan J Kang is one of them, and Pavitr Prabhakar is the first product, and I don’t know if that’s an indication of what’s coming next. But it’s a noble endeavour anyway, and deserves kudos.

Part 2: Chinks in the armour

Who decides which titles Gotham is reprinting? I don’t know. Who buys Gotham titles like Namor The Submariner and Iron Man and Marvel Max Daredevil and Wonder Woman? I don’t, and as far as I know, no one else does, which is why, even at the end of the month, there are tonnes of copies of these issues lying around in the news-stand, and the Sunday market stalls are choked with the same issues which are selling for 1/3rd cover price.It hasn’t been too long since Gotham comics has begun its business in India, and the number of titles it brings out is immense. You might think it’s a good thing, especially for comics-starved readers. But quality matters, my friend, and there exists something important called a First Impression. Too much of bad titles in the market can easily drive away a new reader who is trying out one of those poorly written comics for the first time.

The main reason is, in my humble opinion, the lack of information about what people who are interested in comics actually want to read. Unwittingly or otherwise, Gotham comics is hammering home the fact that comics are all about brainless costume-clad metahumans battering the tar out of each other by bringing in substandard titles. One wonders how many business decisions in the Gotham offices are based on letters from some kook who loves reading Wonder Woman and wants more Wonder Woman to be published. There’s that “comics-are-for-kids” mentality that forces Gotham to churn out parent-friendly material. There is nothing wrong with comics aimed solely at children – but give the intelligent reader a thought, huh?

Suppose you’re an a reader who’s been newly introduced to Agatha Christie. You have read Pocketful of Rye, and you’re dying to read more Agatha Christie. Your friends will tell you ( if they don’t, they are morons) that the best way to read Christie is from the beginning, and that the Poirot stories are the best – so you go out to buy The Mysterious Affair At Styles. Chances are, you will find that book in any good bookshop you go to. Because books are always in print, that’s why.

If I compare the scenario above to, say, Gotham’s Ultimate X-Men Super Special # 3 ( you have just read it etc etc) , and you go out trying to look for the very first UXM Super-special, you won’t find it. Trust me on that. Which, you will admit, puts a bummer on your Ultimate X-Men desires. Bye bye, Mr Potential Customer, and you can point that finger to Gotham Comics, Bangalore, that does not believe in keeping titles in print. There. ( There is a solution, however. You could contact…ahem….people who have spent precious office bandwidth downloading all issues of UXM printed until now. That or amazon.com )

I have a sneaky feeling this is going to turn into El Monstro Post, if I don’t stop now and collect my thoughts. What the heck, part 3 later. Counter-thoughts and Pats On The Back for the above ideas welcome. As are Howls of Derision.

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19 thoughts on “Beatzo’s Comics Theory 101

  1. Howl of well.. something

    Ahoooo ahooooo aahhooooooooo

    excellento post, put part 3 up. You have just pointed out all the problems I’ve faced with Gotham.

    Oh, and *I* bought Iron-Man.[I can’t resist shiny covers :( ]

    • Re: Howl of well.. something

      Part 3 is in the works. I just need to reevaluate things a little. And go see if the latest bunch of comics have come out yet. :)

  2. Comics, Comics, and More Comics.

    Good points, all. Though I think you’re blaming Gotham for a problem that’s systemic to comics at large. I’m willing to grant comics a lot of leeway, since, well, they’re comics, but something I’ve seen FAR too often in the last decade or so (and it was probably there, before that, just unnoticed by me) is that that a new creative team will come in and decide they want to re-vamp not just a character, but the history of that character.

    Once or twice could probably be argued, and gotten away with. Or if, for example, it happened across the whole Marvel Universe just, like, 5 times, then no big deal. Half the titles doing it every couple years is way, way, WAY too much.

    So, if Gotham is doing a lot of reprinting as a foundation of their business, they really can’t be blamed for trends that are causing the loss of long-time readers or for new readers getting lost in the complexities and giving up.

    As for their future, it’s nice to see that Gotham is giving writers a little leeway to try new stuff out, and I’m curious and hopeful about what will come after the new Spider-Man, even if I’m not all that impressed by him.

    As a total aside, though comics-related, a friend of mine got cast as an extra in “Batman Begins”! Thought you’d be interested… :) He’s doing five days worth of filming, over the course of August, as a Uniformed Gotham Police Officer. As yet, he doesn’t know if he’ll have any real face time in the film, but getting to spend five days on the lot would be cool, even if he did get cut out of the film! Though, of course, getting cut from the film would suck… =(

    • Re: Comics, Comics, and More Comics.

      Thanks a lot for the insight. I quite agree with your points – the random retconning that goes on ( ever since Crisis on Infinite Earths) is enough to drive away potential readers.

      Which is why I wonder why they let themselves get lost. Ultimate Spiderman is a good example. It is “kosher”, as in, there is a stamp of finality to the events going on in the USM world, and it makes for very good reading. They currently have three other Spidey titles going on, the one J Michael Straczynski is writing, they have one by John Byrne, a weirdly-drawn ( for lack of a better word) version, which I think is by Paul Jenkins and there is also the Spidergirl monthly. Extremely confusing for a new reader to keep track of all of these simultaneously, and very easy to get pissed off by the bad storytelling. Gotham could keep all the issues of USM in print, and ignore the rest of the Spidey titles. Why do they need to saturate the market with redundant titles when they can easily bring in more varied characters, is what I wonder.

      Gotham is in an advantageous position because of its licenses – it can filter out the best of the comic book titles published in the States and create a new fan-base here, but it’s just not doing so. Whether this is out of ignorance or disregard for what’s good and what’s not, who knows?

      Your friend is a lucky man! Could you ask him if any of the shooting he’s been in so far has anything to do with the original Goyer script? :)

  3. wow… i missed the part 1…read it now…
    actually its only recently i came to know there is so much behind the comics scene…(after i saw some kid getting lost in the comic section in landmark in bangalore)…
    also saw a recent story on the comic book markeet and rare comic collectors making a lot of moolah.. and how the markets were fluctuated based on the collectors and the wanna-be-collectors….and how the bubble burst…
    i lived in those times and environs when all i used to take my imaginary bike out on a ride to get was the 1-rs-deposit-10p-per-dayrent comics from the kinara shop…torn, dog eared copies of spiderman, superman, mandrake, phantom and amar chitra katha, tinkle… i remember bahadur used to be my favorite indian hero….very real, very un comic but still likeable….wwonder wwhat happened to him…
    but this new parody sux….
    talking about continuity… pg wodehouse used to bring in an intro of the characters in every novel…gets a bit of a pain when you are on your 12th jeeves….. but appreciated by the new readers…

    • also saw a recent story….and how the bubble burst…
      Oh, good. At least the kid got you interested in comics enough for you to read articles about them. ;-)

      I have to admit that the reason why I started collecting comics was this childish desire to make moolah out of selling them into the future. Unlike ( most) other collectors, I read them, though, and things have been …interesting, ever since I discovered I liked them more than my textbooks. :)

      The collectors’ market is all gone now, though, so not too many people buy comics for the sake of getting money off them later. eBay has changed the marketplace, actually.

      talking about continuity… pg wodehouse used to bring in an intro of the characters in every novel…gets a bit of a pain when you are on your 12th jeeves….. but appreciated by the new readers…

      Exactly. In a novel, it’s easy to spend a page or two expounding on characters, but a monthly 22-page comic? very tough.

  4. Excellent post, beatzo!

    *resounding slap on the back*

    You’ve highlighted the exact problems I face.. For example, I don’t know the difference between Ultimate Spiderman and (regular?) Spiderman… And forget “For those who came in late” introductions, even a basic numbering /sequencing system would go a long way to help readers distinguish between episodes. For example, I bought an Ultimate Spiderman last week and did not know when it was published (could not find the date anywhere), or whether it was a new storyline or part of an existing story. It was the introduction to Dr. Octivius and so I guessed it must be a new story and recently published. And I don’t know if the doubles and “super-specials” have different storylines…

    All this confusion has left me quite frustrated and irritated, for I know I would spend more money on comics if things were clearer.

    • You must have bought issue 25 or thereabouts of Ultimate Spiderman. It’s tough to find the early issues, but they have been reprinted in some Superspecials. I will try buying one for you, and will pass it on to you the next time I am in B’lore. (Maybe by the end of the month)

      That, and a cd of the complete USM, so you can peruse 60 issues one after the other on your computer. >:)

  5. you’re a good man, you are.

    great post. I’d have whispered the words lj-cut but then I’m not too tolerant of non-fanpeople anyway. ::snick::

    For once, I don’t disagree. With anything you just wrote. :)

    But why the gripe against Namor and Iron Man? I’m curious.

    Speaking of desi comics, you remember the Bachchan-in-a-cape Supremo stuff? I loved that growing up. *sigh* taught me the meaning of the word tamancha and was illustrated well.

      • My apologies, then, for unintentionally wounding an Iron Man fan.

        But then…

        on any given day, would you prefer to read Iron Man or Punisher by Garth Ennis?
        ;)

        • oh, Punisher by Ennis, any day. But that is out of respect for Ennis and the extremely great work he has done with Punisher, or for that matter even Preacher.
          Punisher on his own was a very bland character(to me), but Ennis turned the whole series on its head.

          I watched the recent Punisher movie last week on DVD. A little part of me died that day.

    • The gripe against Iron Man and Namor:

      Do any of these characters have storylines that are compelling enough for someone to actually like them? They are better off as Supporting Characters. I somehow don’t dig Namor’s standoffish act, or Iron Man’s technoparaphernalia. But hey, that’s me. I was mentioning these characters with regards to Gotham, because there are other, better characters that can see the light of day in India. Kevin Smith’s Green Arrow, Ennis’s Punisher, Bendis’s Daredevil, rather than the Marvel Max version they’re putting out right now, are examples.

      I do remember Supremo! Star Comics, and I am still searching for backissues in Hyderabad.

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