The iFanboy Letter Column – 04/09/2010

Friday means many things to many people. For some, Friday means freedom as the work week has ended and the weekend can begin. For others, Friday means you get a brief respite at home before heading back out on the road.

At iFanboy, Friday means it’s letter column time.

You write. We answer. Very simple.

As always, if you want to have your e-mail read on the any of our shows or answered here, keep them coming – contact@ifanboy.com


Okay. So here is a question that does not involve “where do I start reading (insert title here)”. I know that comic history started with The Golden Age. And that lead into The Silver Age. We are soon to enter The Heroic Age. My question is:  What “Ages” come between The Silver Age and The Heroic Age?

Kevin S. from Calgary, Alberta, Canada

This is one of those hotly debated and discussed topics that not everyone can agree on. I can only give you my opinion thoughts on the ages, so take it as you will. First, for those unaware, the “ages” of comics explain the historical evolution of the comics industry. The Golden Age describes the beginnings of the comic book industry (specifically the superhero world at least), beginning with the introduction of Superman and Batman in pages of Action Comics and Detective Comics, respectively. The Golden Age ran through World War II and through the 1940s and early 1950s until the comic book industry collapsed due to the evil machinations of Dr. Fredric Wertham. But super heroes can’t be held down, and in the late 1950s, with the introduction of new takes on The Flash (first appearing in Showcase #4) and Green Lantern, The Silver Age of superheroes was born. The Silver Age marked a return to superhero comics at DC Comics, and with the emergence of Marvel Comics in the early 1960s bolstered it as possibly one of the greatest periods in comics history.

Now what comes after The Silver Age is up for debate. It’s pretty much agreed that The Silver Age ended in the early 1970s, as comics evolved from the simply, happy go-lucky stories to more complex, realistic and mature comics. Some like to keep the metal theme of the ages, and call this period that began in the 1970s The Bronze Age. Comics in the 1970s started inching towards being more realistic and tackling “issues” like drug use and increased violence and moral dilemmas. But The Bronze Age also has some carry over from The Silver Age, giving an oftentimes odd combination of Silver Age-esque wackiness with modern problems. Personally, I believe The Bronze Age ended in 1986, when the combination of Crisis on Infinite Earths, Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns and other darker comics ushered in The Modern Age (often referred to as the era of “grim and gritty”). As comics continued to mature along with its readers — who, for the first time, didn’t stop reading comics when they reached their teens — the stories took an even deeper turn for the mature and realism at times. I believe that we are still in The Modern Age, factoring in the great new takes on comics that we’ve seen in the past 20 years within creator owned work and new takes on superhero comics.

I’m not quite sure that Marvel’s marketing slogan of “The Heroic Age,” is ushering in a new age for comics as an industry, so I wouldn’t get to married to the term. Rather, I think if we’re on the verge of a new age for comics, it’s going to be The Digital Age, and will develop over the next few years as we see the delivery medium for comics evolve to digital platforms, hopefully ushering even newer and creative ways of telling stories.

Ron Richards


After watching one of your podcasts I decided to look into a series called Locke & Key and I have loved this series so much that I am trying to find other horror-esque/fantasy books kind of like it or at least similar or within the same genre, etc, to read. There was one book recommended to me called The Walking Dead andI read that series with the Compendium, I thought that the storytelling and writing were great, but the art and the deeply depressing plots that enfold didn’t really agree with me, so I am looking for some books that are not really depressing but that have plenty of that horror suspense that Locke & Key has masterfully crafted. So if you guys at iFanboy could spare any time if you know of any books to possibly send any suggestions by me to look into I would very much appreciate it.

SpiderTitan

This is a tough question to answer. I don’t read a ton of horror books. In fact, the two horror books that I read regularly are the ones you mentioned: Locke & Key and The Walking Dead, both of which are excellent. Also, as far as I can tell, horror books are usually sad and depressing. I actually think that Lock & Key is a sad book, just in a different way than The Walking Dead and not as overtly intense. I guess I would describe Locke & Key as melancholy.

One book that you might want to check out is American Vampire, which just started last month. It definitely had more of a Locke & Key feel rather than a The Walking Dead feel, which is not surprising since Stephen King is the co-writer of American Vampire and his son Joe Hill, is the writer of Locke & Key.

Normally when he get a question like this I respond with the above two paragraphs and apologize for my general ignorance of the horror genre. But not this week! This week I am putting the question out there on a public platform so that the dear members of the iFanbase can chime in with some suggestion for SpiderTitan in the comments.

Conor Kilpatrick


I have been working in retail since 1996 and collecting comics on and off since then. I really want to do something that I am passionate about and that is retail and comics. So I jumped on this thing called the internet and did some research, now this is where it gets crazy, half the sites say do it and half say not to. I got a business model and found a great location with a lot of foot traffic, not another comic shop within 5-6 miles and three grammar schools within walking distance. With all of these comic movies coming out in the next few years wouldn’t this be a good time to open? I know the economy looks like glass joe after the first round right now but it is improving. so two questions:

1) What’s your opinion on opening up a shop right now?
2) Any helpful tips/links for this endeavor.

Martin from Chicago, Illinois

Hey Martin! This is actually a question I’ve never gotten before. My first bit of advice would be to ask people who know about comics retailing, because I certainly don’t. But I do know some people who do, and I would say that it’s not something you want to jump into lightly. The fact is, this is a weird economy and comics are more or less a luxury, niche, or collectible item. I know Chicago is chock full of comic shops, so you’re already dealing with competition. Just because there isn’t a shop right where you are doesn’t mean that the people who live there aren’t picking their books up somewhere else, like when they commute. I don’t really know how to research what the actual potential of the area you’d like to open is, but it’s something you’ll have to do. You mentioned the grammar schools in the area, but do kids read comics? Are there enough age appropriate comics to make money from that, and do you know what they are and how to sell them? There are a million factors.

At one point, I considered trying to open a shop, and I read this article, which scared the hell out of me. The main point is that it’s a business, and you’ll have to devote your life and soul into making it a success, and even then, there are no guarantees. Read that article, and take his words to heart, and see if that’s still something you’re interested in. If you are, I advise you to learn everything you can and do lots of research. I have a friend who recently opened a shop in Brooklyn, and before doing so, he quit his job, and worked at another comic store for several years. That entailed a massive pay cut, but it was how he could learn about the business, and it was invaluable, because it’s a weird business. There’s a fickle customer base, a single distributor, and you’re in the middle of a possible impending digital revolution. You wouldn’t open up a CD store right now, and I’m not sure it’s the best time to invest in a comic book store, until you see how things shake out. The Disney/Marvel deal could change everything. What if they decide to abandon Diamond and distribute in a different way, making things harder on local comic shops? Marvel has the lion’s share of the available market, and most retailers need them entirely. Plus you’re competing with Amazon for trade sales. It’s a minefield.

All that being said, there are some amazing and thriving comic book stores out there. The owners make them that way, and they do it with sweat and determination. You’re selling every book you’ve got, and you know them front and back, and who wants to buy them. It’s not at all about sitting around, taking comics all day. It’s about marketing and building a customer base, and educating the community about what comics are and how amazing they are, get creators in, and setting yourself and your store apart. Are you ready to evangelize for comics? Because that’s what you’ll have to do. It can be done, and if you decide that it’s the right path for you, I salute you mightily and wish you the very best, but it is certainly not going to be easy.

Josh Flanagan

Comments

  1. I like to think that Silver Age began and ended with Barry Allen so I always say from Showcase #4 to the end of COIE

  2. I always say if I hit the lottery, and never have to worry about money, I would open a comic shop.  Otherwise, it seems like a near fruitless endeavor if you ever hope to make a profit.

  3. Wow that sounds great Conor I have been hearing so much hype about American Vampire I definitely will go check this series out. Thanks!

  4. @kentish: Years ago, the chain I work for tried opening up stores in a far away state, and for a while, they did pretty well.  And then a local comic book fan hit the lottery and opened a store that didn’t need to make much of a profit to keep him afloat, and it put all the other stores in the area out of business.

    Last I heard that store was still doing pretty well.  So I wish you luck on the lottery, just, please don’t open any stores in Massachusetts if you win. 

  5. Here’s my take on Ages: I believe the Modern Age began in the early 80’s with the rise of the 1st successful independent comics (American Flagg, Cerebus, Nexus, Grimjack) which introduced more sophisticated, morally ambiguous characters.  Then comics entered the Dark Ages in the early 90’s when gimmick covers and art over writing almost killed comics.  Then the late 90’s/early 2000’s ushered in the Renaissance Age as great writers (Bendis, Morrison, Johns, Brubaker) began doing major work for the Big Two.

  6. SpiderTitan: I don’t know how you feel about anthology titles, but I have really been enjoying the most recent Creepy Comics series. It’s quarterly, so there have only been two issues released so far.

  7. Locke & Key = Excellent.

    American Vampire – meh.

  8. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Hellboy and Witchfinder for horror. 

    Hard to find anything better than Locke & Key though.  

  9. My store, Alter Ego Comics in Ohio, is celebrating 5 years in business in May.  it was an uphill battle in the beginning, (there were two other stores selling comics in my area when I opened – they both closed within 6 months of my store opening), and it’s always tough running a small business, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I love coming to work every day, and I get to help people discover (or rediscover) the joy of comics!

    There is definitely a right way and a wrong way to open a store.  The CBIA is a great resource (http://www.thecbia.com/index2.html).  And, if you’re going to C2E2 next weekend, plan on attending the "So You Wanna Be a Retailer" panel on Saturday at 12:30pm.  I’m on the panel for that one, so come by and introduce yourself.

  10. @BrianBaer I have checked out the Creepy series not really my cup of tea I guess its because I mainly read non-black & white books (with exception to Sin City, the 1st Phonogram book, & Scott Pilgrim) but the real reason is that I actually am not that much of a straight up horror fan. Like I would watch a few horror movies but I am not that into the whole monster horror type of books. Yet I also like the Buffy Season 8 series as well so I guess I have a very particular taste with my comics, lol

  11. @akamuu:  It’s a deal. 

  12. Ron makes Dr. Wertham sound like a supervillain. Maybe he was…

  13. Opening up a comic store is tough.  I tried opening up an on-line store and after 6 months I closed the business down.  I didn’t want to quit my day job, but I really wanted to be in comic book retail.  Each month would be a loss for me and it was very hard to compete with the already established e-tailers.  Mind you, my goal wasn’t to make a profit.  I just didn’t want to lose money.  The online thing was just supposed to be a hobby for me.  What killed me was the shipping costs.  I don’t know how other online stores can ship products so cheap considering that I use the same shipping services.  I lost about $8000 in the 6 months and decided to cut my losses.  But those 6 months was fun!  I’m glad that I got it out of my system. 

    But if you devote 100% of your time in it, I think that you can make it work. 

  14. @spidertitan I don’t know if you are going to find better horror comics than Locke and key. You may want to go find some ec comics reprints. I have enjoyed everything I have read from angry gnome comics but they are a very small press and pretty tough to find.

  15. @spidertitan hey just found this! Really enjoyed this issue!

    http://www.mydigitalcomics.com/product.aspx?id=d9fd87c1-0bff-4443-8276-06b603c5ecdf

  16. The Stand is a good horror series.

  17. @newsun I agree it was good though I ended up dropping it before the latest series. Just wasn’t scratching my itch.

  18. I definitely get the impression that the ’00s were an age into themselves. Maybe it began in ’98 or ’99 or whenever Quesada took over Marvel; Alan Moore starting his ABC work also seems like a major initial force in the age. It was kind of a Renaissance, in a sense, but I would prefer to call it a Second Childhood. The creativity was high, but for the most part it wasn’t a maturing of the tastes of customers: it was just 30-somethings going back to their childhood again, but with more contemporary sensibilities (emphasis on decompressed storytelling, "noir" tropes, sitcom-type dialogue). The audience aged and shrank, but the quality of material on average was significantly better than in the ’90s. We may be transitioning into a new Age right now with the digital stuff coupled with the aging of the demographic.

  19. I’ve always wondered if opening a comic book store would ruin one’s love for comic books…so if you love comic books, think twice before turning your passion and diversion from life’s harsh realities into a job – and hence one of life’s harsh realities.  Akamuu shows it doesn’t have to be that way, but I wonder how many people not only lose their shirts, but also their "best friend", by opening a shop.

    For the horror fan, I would advise trying to pickup the Moore and Veitch written Swamp Things…awesome with fantastic artists like Bissette, Totlebon, Veitch, etc.  But I agree that Locke & Key is hard to beat and unique book, good for you for finding it.

    As far as the ages, I’m close to sparos01…the silver age ends with Giant Size XMen, then it was the X Age where X-Men dominated and Marvel rules absolutely, then the "Grim n’ Gritty" Age highlighted by Moore and Miller and a DC resurgence, then the "Image Age" where the speculation creates a rise and crash, and now the "Trade Paperback" age, which finally capitalizes on the gains that should have come out of the "Grim n’ Gritty" age.

     

  20. By the end of the year we’ll probably see two more iPad-type devices.  I also think DC will join the digital arena by then.  These devices and the decisions of comic publishers to start digital distribution will have an impact on comic stores.  Publishers say they’ll protect the comic shops….for now.

    I’d wait on the whole comic shop thing or find a niche: Comics n’ Coffee?   Comics n’ Donuts?  Graphic Novels n’ Guns? 

  21. @Peterparker It looks pretty cool, thanx, I guess the great thing and the unfortunate thing about such great series like Locke & Key is that most of the time there aren’t any other books like them b/c they’re so great. Aw well curse of the comic reader I suppose, lol.

  22. @tad that comics ‘n coffee is actually a really good idea… I could see gn and gins not going well when you are down to the last copy of the newest walking dead though…

    @spidertitan yeah it’s tough when your interest is peaked by something that is at the top of it’s genre. I chased the next sandman for a long time, finally Fables is scratching that itch (not counting the great fables crossover, this trade was seriously mislabled! I don’t read Jack because it is not my bag and I felt tricked into reading it!) t

  23. @Peterparker yea it really does suck! Every time I get into a series & it reaches to a point where I have to wait for so long for the next collection (b/c I am really a trade/graphic novel reader instead of a straight up comic book reader, I find the trades & GNs much more durable & more enjoyable IMO) like when I got the first ultimate collection of Ultimate Spider-Man I was like Awesome now I gotta check out the other ultimate titles, Ultimates were fantastic then I grabbed the Ultimate X-Men then Ultimate Iron Man & (god forgive me) I actually got Ultimate Fantastic Four when Greg Land was doing the interiors & have regretted that so much to this day. It just really sucks to find such a great series to jump on board of & find out that there aren’t many other great series like it to jump on board of as well b/c its so great. But what can you do.

  24. PymSlap (@alaska_nebraska) says:

    For SpiderTitan, I’d second Urthona’s Swamp Thing recommendation. Swampy’s nemesis Arcane is really unsettling. Another good creep book is the first arc of Unknown Soldier.

  25. If you’re not adverse to manga, Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service is a great horror title.

  26. @I’ve tried manga once, I just couldn’t really get the whole reverse reading order (right to left instead of left to right) it just never settled with me & just made me trying to enjoy or understand manga all that more exhausting. I do however enjoy manga-esque titles like the new Ultimate Comics Spider-Man done with art by the amazing David LaFuente also the Runaways as well (BKV & Whedon’s runs). So thanks but straight up manga never really suited me.

  27. @Martin -the shop in my town closed after just 7 months, and the main reason was Diamond. They often got his orders wrong, which kills a fledgling shop when you can’t fill a customer’s pull list; their customer service was awful; and, the way they had him order killed his income. There were a few things he could have done better otherwise, but the “relationship” with Diamond put a big hurt on him. One thing he did early on, which he wished he’d kept doing a little longer, was piggy-back his order with that of a larger shop and just pick his books up from the shop rather than get them at his store. The store that was ordering for him was bigger and didn’t have as many problems as he did with Diamond, and they weren’t competing with each other so it didn’t hurt the larger store to help my guy. Good luck!

  28. Am I the only person in the world who didn’t know joe hill was Stephen kings son till now. Good answer on the ages of comics by the way

  29. @paulshakey

    I found out when I wiki’d him, after reading L&K. 

  30. @Paul ihad no clue

  31. Five years ago, my plan was to try and open a comic shop when I got a bit more established (wife, house, etc). Now, I don’t know how the digital market will affect the retail market in the next 15-20 years.  I think any modern comic shop that is going to open has to have the emerging digital market in mind.  Also, I think that good store is one that interacts with the community and puts itself out there.

    Where I live, the shop I go to is involved in the community by hosting events, promoting local comic shows and creators, and getting involved in local charities.  As far as I can tell, it’s doing really well.  There are other stores, though, where the people in charge who sit in their comics dungeon reading their books with little interaction.  I think it’s all about how much you put yourself and your business out there.  

  32. One can mark some of the ages based on the career of DC editor Julie Schwartz.  Schwartz edited Showcase #4 and is largely credited for bringing back The Flash.  Afterwards he led the reboot of many of the DC characters that we think of when we think of the Silver Age (Justice League, The Atom, etc.)  The bronze age might be said to have begun when Schwartz took over as editor of the Superman books in 1970 replacing Mort Weisinger, who’d edited/plotted those books for all those decades of whacky 50s/60s stories.  Schwartz tried to add more "realism" to the title, cutting out the imaginary tales, making superman a TV reporter, getting rid of kryptonite, etc.  Schwartz run on Superman ended with Alan Moore’s "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow" story line, which was followed by Byrne’s famous reboot–this gap could be seen as the beginning of the "modern age" or "dark age" or what-have-you.

  33. @SpiderTitan,
    Hellboy and B.P.R.D. are good comics I read, but I was surprised when I was told they were horror comics, because I didn’t think of them that way.  I had assumed I wouldn’t like "horror" comics, so either these are mislabeled, or I have a misconception regarding the discription of "horror".

  34. Midtown Comics BABY!! I’d recognize that beautiful sales floor any day.

    Forgive my excitement, but the last thing I expected to see in the Letter Column was a shot of Midtown. Not only did they give me a paycheck every two weeks for 2+ years, but they were a source of fun, comic education, and friendship for me and I miss it everyday. Best job I’ve ever had. I try not to mention my employment there because it feels like name-dropping given their success, but I couldn’t resist a quick shout-out.

    It’s always been a fantasy of mine to own a shop. I certainly picked up a few pointers from observing the Midtown crew on a daily basis, but it is an extremely risky endeavor. Like someone mentioned above, I’d only give it serious thought if I ended up making a LOT of money. It breaks my heart to hear my current shop owner’s hardships keeping the place afloat. And with digital comics seemingly being the way of the future (no matter how much the old man in me resists it), times are sadly going to get worse for the LCS proprietors.

  35. @SpiderTitan

    I’ll third the Alan Moore Swamp Thing recommendation for horror comics. I’d also recommend the first trade of Sandman (Preludes and Nocturnes), since that has the most disturbingly creepy Doctor Destiny story ever. I’m not sure how much the later trades of Sandman stray from the horror genre, I’ve read the Fables and Reflections volume and I’d describe it more as dark fantasy.

    I’d also recommendation the Jamie Delano trades of Hellblazer as they really are horror stories.

    If you like Stephen King, maybe the current Stand series will appeal to you.

    Since you liked Locke & Key definitely check out Clive Barker’s Great and Secret Show which was drawn by Gabriel Rodriguez and all 12-issues have been collected in one TPB or HC.

    Wildstorm recently finished up a beautifully drawn mini-series by the name of North 40 that I enjoyed a lot.

    Garth Ennis’s Crossed is about as violent as they come.

    Since you don’t like B&W art (For The Love Of Pete, man?! WHY!?), I wont recommend Alan Moore’s From Hell.

    And finally, anything starring Deadpool is guaranteed to be bloody horrific.