Tom Katers: Comic Book Counselor

I have invited you here for a discussion. Things get heated. People say crazy stuff. Vases get broken. Threats get made. This is going to be a safe place for a discussion. This is comic book industry counseling. The last week has seen a couple hot button issues work their way through the site. Now that it is Friday and the weekend is approaching, let us all calm down and clear the air before we go hot tubbin’. Never go tubbin’ angry.

Cancelled Comic Pain
With the untimely passing of Thor: The Mighty Avenger this week we saw an outpouring of internet love. A love that was not reflected in the sales of the book. The area in between those numbers was filled with a thick slurry of comic book cancellation angst. This pops up whenever a critical hit faces commercial failure.

You have the fans of the book that are angry that it is going away. You have the bystander fans who are annoyed by the angry fans because comics are a business and low selling books get cancelled. Then you have the comic book companies that just shake their heads and turn their pockets out to show the book wasn’t making money.

It seems to be a classic case of everyone being a little bit right and little bit wrong. The angry fan base for Thor: TMA have a good reason to be disappointed. The periodical business is built on building a connection between the audience and the product. Every comic book company wants you to buy their titles every month. The goal is to get you hooked to that title and create a return customer. The devotion of the return customer turns to anger when the product goes away. You can't create a book hoping to tap into emotion and get angry when emotions are unleashed. The angry fans probably need to adjust their expectations, if only to help their own blood pressure. Don’t lament the Thor: TMA issues you aren’t getting. Treasure the eight that have come out. It is a small consolation but it is better to have pulled and lost than to never pull at all.

The annoyed fans that are always harping on the business realities of comics do have a valid point. These are business decisions. Comic companies need to make money, and if they so happen to make awesome comics that is a bonus. To forget that is only to set yourself up for disappointment. On the other hand I would prefer to avoid the practical as much as I can when buying comics. There are certain shopping situations where I like to keep the business end in the front of my mind. For instance, when I am out looking for gun ammo or a new knife sheath. A world where everyone buys only the A-list titles, because they know they are going to keep being printed,  seems like a really boring comic book industry. I know that certain books aren’t going to last but I can’t help but want them to succeed. When I lose that I think I will drop out of comics.

We then arrive at the big bad company. Marvel can’t be expected to publish a book like Thor: TMA if they are losing money on it. They gave it a shot and it didn’t work out. That is the nature of comics. It is a “fly by the seat of your pants” type of industry. Publishers throw books against the wall and see what sticks. Of course it is also the industry’s fault that their pants steered them into the current direct market atmosphere. It was also the pants that decided to put out a glut of Thor books all at the same time. The pants don’t have a twitter feed so you won’t be able to complain directly to them.

The industry is in flux, as it always has been. As the digital age comes, the industry is going adapt. You will always be able to get sequential storytelling. It just might not be on paper or be twenty two pages long. In the meantime we are going to be stuck in this in between realm where it looks like everything is falling apart and that a quality all-ages story can't survive.  It’s cool though, eventually it will get figured out.

Digital Piracy

This is the flux that I mentioned above. This past week, creator Colleen Doran made public her thoughts on digital comic book piracy. You have those that see digital piracy as the theft of creator’s livelihoods and others that see it as a natural part of the industry’s evolution.

The debate tends to go in rather weird directions that can never be resolved. People argue that there is no way to measure how many sales are lost to piracy. There are readers that discover books via torrent sites, then go on to buy the books. Then again, I don’t think the several thousand downloads that a torrent for Invincible gets a month are just people sampling every consecutive issue of the book. There are people who will steal if given the chance. That is true with any commodity in the history of mankind.

If the owners or creators don’t want the books to be downloaded digitally, and you bit torrent the book, that is stealing. There is no other word for it. It doesn’t matter if you think that they are stupid for not digitally distributing their work. That isn’t your choice to make. I get why people do it. Comics are expensive. Times are tight. It is still stealing.

The reason the debate gets so heated is that there is a lot of delusion flying around. There are people who are stealing who want to pretend that they aren’t stealing, or that they are entitled to what they are downloading.  There are scanners who want to pretend that they are participating in a grand project to digitially preserve comics. I just want to say thank you to them. We all know that without scanned copies that there will be no way to read the latest Spider-man story in 5 years.

Piracy is also not going away. It is here now and it is going to stay even if comics go to all digital distribution. There is a middle ground where peple can have serious conversations about piracy and what it's real dangers and benefits are.. It starts with everyone giving up their beliefs that THEY know how to fix everything. It involves people coming to respect the effort it takes to create a book. It will require creators to put themselves in front of the people who are downloading illegally scanned comics. The publishers have to take a long look at how people perceive their product and how to generate the feeling that the works are worth money.

Calm Tom. That was my nickname back in the day. Before the incident. The next time you leave an angry comment just imagine me, watching you, from across the street, rendering you in charcoal. Soothing?


Tom Katers is calmer then you are, dude.


  1. This is why Tom Katers is and forever shall be my hero

  2. Great article.  A balanced presentation of two volatile topics.   

  3. Oh, and on the topic of Thor: TMA, please everybody, if you’re planning on buying the trade, it comes out December 8th.  Please tell your LCS to reserve a copy for you.  Perhaps if Marvel sees big trade numbers, with the combined weekly sales, they will decide to un-cancel the book.  It’s a long shot, but here’s hoping.

  4. I think that my corner 7-11 is stupid for not digitally distributing their Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, so whenever I go in, I slip one into my pocket in protest.  I’m just sampling the product, though.  I’ll totally buy one, next time (unless I don’t want to, of course).  I mean, if I didn’t shoplift it, I wouldn’t buy it, so it’s not like they would have made money from me, anyway.  Also, seventy-five cents is way too much to charge for a candy bar, but they’re not going to miss that seventy-five cents, anyway, because they’re a big company.  And the corner store isn’t hurt, either, so don’t put that on me, because I’m always telling people how awesome peanut butter cups are, and I know that those people are buying them, so my shoplifting is basically free advertising.  In fact, Reese’s should pay me to shoplift.  When I have enough money, though, I’m going to buy one candy bar for every one that I downloaded into my pocket, to make up for it, I swear.  Also, there was this whole thing on 4chan where one of the guys who works for Reese’s said that people who "download" them actually boosted his sales, so he’s a big fan of shoplifting.  I tell you what, though, if Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups tasted better, I’d totally pay for them.  It’s just that the product isn’t very good, that’s why I shoplift.  It’s all about respect.  I respect peanut butter cups too much to pay for bad products.

    (If you think this is a bad analogy, then I don’t think you understand how intellectual properties work.)

  5. Thank you Tom, the calm and un angry voice of Reason. The Anti Neesman.

  6. That was totally not aimed at Tom, whose couch I would sit on any time.

  7. "The publishers have to take a long look at how people perceive their product and how to generate the feeling that the works are worth money."

    That’s the crux of it right there, Tom. Once upon a time businesses had at opportunity to withhold their product unless they received something in return. Now that the means to make quality copies of the product is in the hands of any common consumer, the moment they distribute something that ability to withhold is lost to them.

    It it a tough position. Its the condundrum of information age. And it makes rendering a sense of value to these kinds of products a difficult task.

    I wouldnt presume to defend thievery and copyright infringement, nor do i know what an ideal model of the business-consumer relationship in this new age would be, but i dont think demonizing digital pirates as bullies and thieves is necessarily a productive part of the solution.

  8. @Quinn I thouroughly enjoyed that analogy. That really is the pirates argument presented in a funny way. Kudos.

  9. It is a good and thoughtful post.  And thanks to Quinn for throwing it right back into the gutter that Tom lifted it out of. 😉

     Muady, I think you’re right. Making the issue about the evils of pirating is counter-productive.  It’s not that piracy isn’t an issue, it’s just that railing against it doesn’t make it go away and frankly if the deep pockets of music industry couldn’t squash piracy, then I doubt the comic book industry will fair any better.  What the music industry did do, eventually, is provide the same thing that was being pirated but in a way that’s more accessible and for a price.  I don’t know how that has worked out for them financially, but seems like it at least has to be better for them now then when it was easier to pirate music then it was to buy it.

    It’s a tough nut to crack.  But I like Tom’s cool, thoughtful approach, and I expect it will yield better results in the long run than the back and forth scolding and justifying that this comment section will devolve into any minute now. 

  10. Dr Tom,

    I’m having anxiety attacks because I’m not sure if I can handle handle a world with a sexy, globetrotting Batman.

  11. I wish that folks who pirate comics would go to their local libraries. They may not have everything you want in the timetable you want it, but its free and you don’t have read on a screen. I think there’s also a communal benefit because the more comics the library loans, the more it is going to buy and the more people will exposed to a variety of stuff. Like a lot of people, I’ve had to cut back on my pull list, but I read so much more through the library than I ever could have afforded when my budget was at its highest.

  12. Honestly, I pirate pretty much EVERYTHING(movies, movies, tv-series, music, pc and xbox360 games), just not comics! Then again, I don’t buy single issues, I buy trades, a LOT of trades.

    Why pirate all the other and not comics? Because with comics

    1st It’s more like a donation to an "artist" instead of just a 400 poeple group under the roof of one movie or games company together for one gig they believe in at varying levels.

    2nd Downloaded comics look CRAPPY on the screen! For me it’s worse than watching one of those cinema-cam-movies some russian guy uploaded a week before the official movie release AND ALSO reading a GREAT comic just on the screen for the first time is a great experience forever ruined. There is a perfect paper-kind fit for every comic and reading it on something else is a waste of art. You want to see a Picasso, a Klimt, a Cezanne, you go to the musuem, you don’t google it and watch the jpeg for hours!


    Also piracy is not STEALING, it may very well be morally wrong, but it’s not stealing as long as the other guy still has his copy and even offered it willingly. I don’t steal, I wouldn’t steal if I could turn invisible and couldn’t be cought ever, but I do "pirate" stuff.

  13. I missed the original piracy article, so maybe this isn’t the place for this, but I just had a question/thought about it. I absolutely agree with the whole digital piracy is stealing argument and I’ve never personally done it, but does anyone think that if illegally downloading things was somehow made impossible then those people would actually go and buy the comics? I mean, I buy comics, specifically trades and hardcover editions, because I actually want to own the book. I want to be able to have it on my shelf and read it whenever and lend it out to people. It seems logical to assume that people who pirate stuff don’t care about this option whatsoever. They just want to read it and be done with it. It seems to me that if illegally downloading stuff somehow suddenly become impossible, people would just end up going to Barnes & Noble or a library or something and reading a trade there. It’s more of a hassle for them, but it’s still free (minus the cost of getting to the place.) It just feels like, for whatever reason (morals, finances, etc.), people who are involved in piracy have already made up their minds that they are not going to pay for comics no matter what. So I guess I’m trying to say that I’m not really concerned about where anyone stands on the whole morality/right or wrong aspect of this; I’m just wondering if people think that sales of a comic would actually go up at all if digital piracy wasn’t an option.

  14. Also, now that I think about it, is reading a trade at a bookstore with no intention of purchasing it basically equivalent to piracy? The end result seems to be exactly the same…

  15. @Kirkerson: You rock!

    [sad though I live in germany, I want to borrow a comic, I have to to the university of arts and check their local library on the 5th floor, to find Maus, Asterios Polyp, Persepolis and stuff, but they don’t even have Watchmen, good though for the comic industry as I don’t pirate comics(just everything else), but keep on buying their trades on amazon]

  16. @lmiller31: Unless you copy that TPB and distribute it freely to everyone who wants it, no it’s not the same.

  17. @conor: Well they are distributing the book freely to anyone who reads it at Barnes and Noble and Borders.

  18. @Imiller31: I think so too. They will not pay for comics! If the only way was to pay, they’d stop reading comics. Would I have watched Lost at the cost of 4$ an episode? It would be worth it, but I wouldn’t have started paying, not even after a free-to-get-hooked 1st season.

    But WITH piracy, MAYBE if pirate reads an awesome comic online(that they never had tried, were the only possibility to try it, paying for it), they say "hey, that was one of the best comics I ever read, I want it on my shelf HC, good paper and binding and lend it to my friends to show off and maybe get them hooked too.

  19. i live hours away for the nearset comic chope. 

     i downloaded ilegally until i found out about 

     put comics online for cheap and this problem dies. thats the turth. the convince plus cheapness can save this industry.


  20. Comic book creates make books. Those books have their ideas inside of them. They sell the books with their ideas. You download the book. You read the book. You now have the ideas and you didn’t pay for them. That is stealing.

    They don’t make the stories to get you to buy paper.

  21. God bless you, Tom!

  22. I’d like to see Tom offer this service on-air, to a few podcasts out there.

  23. i moved overseas for work.

    no way to get comic here in any reasonable way but a ton of people follow american comics ilegally.

    put this stuff online might really bump up sales if you made it cheaper. like a dollar.  

     by the way i still buy comics but i have to wait for the holidays to pick up and/or read my books. i love this medium too much not to support it. 

  24. Def. Stealing:
    To illegally, or without the owner’s permission, take possession of something by surreptitiously taking or carrying it away.

     So if I you buy a comic in your local store and on your way home I rob you, then I STOLE it from YOU. If I downloaded  it from a guy that shared the torrent. Then I didn’t take POSESSION of the comic. 

    The company owns the RIGHTS to the story. After my illegal download I don’t possess the rights to the comic, therefore it can’t be called "stealing". It doesn’t make it right, just the word is wrong.

  25. @wordballoon

     Only a few?

  26. I think people who read illegally do it for a lot of different reasons. I did it for awhile a few years ago, and realized it was wrong. Now I go to the library, swap books with friends, use ebay, and trade on to get the stuff I couldn’t normally afford. All of these things are a lot more fun and social (and easier on my conscience) than going to one of those mal-ware infested sites.

    Some people will never stop doing it and don’t want to spend a dime of their own money. However, I do think there are a lot of people out there that just need to be shown a better alternative.

  27. "I don’t think the several thousand downloads that a torrent for Invincible gets a month are just people sampling every consecutive issue of the book."

    That about sums it up!

  28. Except that it is stealing.

  29. You know what maybe it’s not stealing but it is misappropriating somebody else’s work without their permission, and without paying for it. You can say it’s not stealing, and you can call it what you want to make yourself feel better, but it’s wrong, and it’s also against the law.

  30. @conor: So, are you saying that it’s only piracy if you’re involved in uploading and distributing books? Because if so, I really misunderstood what the conversation was about here. I thought the "piracy" definition was anyone who was either uploading and distributing books without authorization OR anyone who was downloading them and reading them without paying for them. I really don’t know anyone who is distributing anything online, let alone comics, but I know a whole lot of people who download stuff without paying for it. 

  31. Oh, and it’s still totally stealing. You can get into semantics all you want over it, but that’s what it boils down to. You’re stealing an experience, even if you don’t have anything physical in your possession to show for it. If you hook up cable to your house without paying for it, it’s stealing. If you sneak into a movie or an amusement park without paying for admission, it’s stealing. Unless you’re authorized by the people who own the theater/park/cable company/copyrights to use their property without paying for it, then it’s stealing. You can call it piracy if you want, but it’s the same thing.

  32. @lmiller31: It’s both. The people who are reading the pirated books are reading new, unpaid for copies. The book in the store that you read off the shelf is paid for at the distributor level.

  33. ^^^ And just to clarify, that above comment was about illegal downloads. I really don’t know where I stand on the bookstore issue yet.

  34. @kitterson: "Some people will never stop doing it and don’t want to spend a dime of their own money. However, I do think there are a lot of people out there that just need to be shown a better alternative"

    That sums it up!

     Yes it is stealing. but what are they doing about it, other than complain? You certainly can’t stop piracy. I like Mark Waid’s aproach. Put it up on an easy to access, lower price, global way, and whoever it’s going to buy it, it’s going buy it. And whoever it’s going to steal it. It’s already stealing it. At least make things easier for the ones that buy it.


  35. Yes , digital piracy is stealing , But it is a hard thing to convince people of, as the traditional ways of thinking about theft don’t apply .I saw an example above of stealing candy used as an equivalent , But it doesn’t quite fit .   Its more like you have a machine that can replicate the candy in unlimited quantities after you bought the first piece ( even pirates have to buy at least one copy) . So now you have what is essentially a counterfeit item . Which is why i find it more useful to think of it as counterfeiting rather than theft. 


  36. i wish that people who pirated with so much entitlement would try their hand at creating a comic of their own. Start to finish, writing, art, letters, production…to the same standard that you would judge a book if you were a consumer. See how much work it is and you’ll probably earn a bit more respect for the creators who you are stealing from. 

    I’ve always thought i understood how much work it took to make a comic, but then i started on my own project..and DAMN. its tough. I have a new found respect for anyone who can produce these things on a regular basis. Its one of the most challenging commercial art fields that exists.  

  37. Has there ever been an instance where sternly saying "that’s stealing" to someone pirating media ever made them knock it off?

    I aim to be pretty supportive around here, often only commenting with a "great job," or "thanks," (or yelling at Kick-Ass) but honestly, this is starting to wear me out.  Please, pick a new song.

    Don’t give up, but please, try a new angle.  To people that are justifying their behavior as something other than criminality, I’d imagine saying "you’re wrong" isn’t going to get through to them any more than their justifications might to you.  

    What’s the old saying for writing good characters?  Everybody’s righteous.  How do people that spend so much of their lives devoted to fiction forget that the rule is informed because that’s how real people act?

    Nonetheless, as always:

    Tom, great article, thanks for your contributions.  Vs. Aquaman is awesome.  iFanboy progenitors, thanks for all you do, too.

  38. Also, seriously, my kingdom for an edit button.  

     *that the rule is informed by how real people act?

  39. To some extent i’d respect people more if they just gave up with the crappy excuses and said "yes, it is stealing" (because it plainly is, according to current property laws) "but i do it anyway".

    In the UK pretty much every DVD release has this bloody annoying warning at the begining of the disc that you can’t skip through which goes something like "you wouldn’t steal a handbag….you wouldn’t steal a car… you wouldn’t steal etc etc…. illegally downloading movies is piracy" and shock-horror "PIRACY IS STEALING!"  To which everyone who’s ever been made to sit through it thinks "yeah, no shit, the clue is in the word piracy" and as an after thought "that’s a bit presumptuous isn’t it? Maybe i would steal a car or a handbag".

    The thing is, people who illegally download or upload movies or whatever aren’t going to see that and think "what? I never realised! oh shame on me!" Its stealing, it’s piracy, it’s illeagal… how much clearer do you need it?! But that’s not the point is it. This attempt to appeal to the upright citizen in all of us mostly falls on deaf ears and makes the age old fallacy of reading an "ought" in an "is". Just because such-and-such "is" stealing, it doesn’t follow that anyone "ought" not do it. it’s one of the great ethical blind spots; just because something is declared against the law doesn’t mean necessarily that everyone will stop doing it. Moral statements are just that, statements. they carry no actual, magical power that force us to obey them apart from social pressure and expectation, which can be obeyed or ignored depending on your point of view. In fact, given the chance to get away with it, to be an anonymous downloader, or an invisible man walking into a movie theatre without paying, most people find their moral compass (if such a thing really exists) suddenly outmoded, and they happily construct a new one in which the goal posts are slightly shifted, the constitution amended, to include their new activity.

    Morality afterall is something constructed by us in our personal lives, and by those with the power to dictate it in our public/political lives; it works for us – it’s useful when it helps us out, but can be discarded or altered when it doesn’t. Moral conflicts like this arise when person A seeks to make an alteration to the definitions of right and wrong, but person B (who happens to backed by society’s hegemonic ideals) disagrees. Person A: "Downloading movies/comics isn’t stealing… if only you’d see it from my point of view"; Person B:"Stealing is Stealing. It’s the law. Until society’s values change, you are a criminal. it’s as simple as that."  Person A: "Fair enough. But until you catch me, i’ll carry on regardless, thanks very much."

    What’s going to be interesting is, as the powers that be lose money and power (hmm, funny how you always see those two together) over this arguement, will the debate become a more acceptable topic and the majority point of view slowly change to incorporate it…?

  40. Last time I checked (which was a few years ago) downloading a torrent was not legally theft in Canada. Ethically and morally, that’s another story.

  41. People can try justifing their piracy however they want but I have just as little respect for them as I do for someone who walks into target and steals a cd. 

  42. Rant! Man are people angry! And they sure think they know how to fix everything. I was hoping for a column were I can request help or guidance to my problems.

    Dear Thomas:
    I been meaning to break my physical relationship with a girl I no longer like. It’s hard cuz I have to see her everyday. And she is also nuts. Is there a trade or an arc u can recommend that will help or guide me how to solve my conundrum? Sincerely, me.

  43. Tom thanks for writing such an interesting piece. 

  44. I still want a Dear Thomas column. In fact, I need it. Ifanboy, make it happen. I’m sure others would agree. A comic book centric advise would help many of our daily problems. I’ll take my request to the higher-ups.

  45. I wonder how many comic book (& iFanboy) readers actually subscribe to something like Marvel’s Digital Comics library. Anyone know if that business is growing or stagnant?

  46. I “sampled” for free the Friendly Fires album. Loved it. Then bought the deluxe version. I’m happy I did it, no regrets. Just saying. Does it do them any good? I don’t know. But what the hell, it’s my money. Yet, I feel no need to condem anyone. I love comics and music. That is all I can say.

  47. @TeleCarlos: that’s great that in that one instance, your piracy led to a legit purchase, but how many other albums have you "sampled" and decided against buying? I don’t know you personally, but I do know that the music industry as a whole has gone down the toilet since digital piracy has gained serious traction among the (former?) music buying public. Even now, with just about every song you could think of available for a reasonable price (1/3 what a coffee costs or less), the sales figures are pretty dismal. I certainly don’t know what the answer is, but I do know that those who are making arguments for why their piracy is okay had better not be the same ones complaining about their favorite titles getting canceled, whether or not they buy THOSE specific books. When you spread around arguments about why piracy is okay, you’re contributing to an atmosphere where others feel justified in their piracy, which could indirectly lead to the art you love going away. Comic book creators are as extreme an example as you can come up with, as many of them are nowhere near the millionaire media moguls most pirates comfort themselves with thinking of as the invulnerable victims of their Robin Hood like quest. The writers and artists making most of the works we love are working their tails off for peanuts, and you can tell yourself it’s not stealing all you want (I’M LOOKING AT YOU, AVENGERSASSEMBLE!), but in the end, it has the same effect on the creators (and a similar one on your LCS) as it would if you were walking into the store and stuffing the floppies down your pants. In many ways, the semantics that make it justifiable make it more nefarious than simple physical stealing.

  48. At least musicians can tour and sell t-shirts.

  49. i was thinking; it occured to me that perhaps iFanboy has a vested interest in this? i’m not saying that to be horrible or divisive, i think you do a great job and it’s mostly obvious that your comments are motivated by respect for the creators, concern for the medium etc… but perhaps you have ought to address this point somewhere?

  50. @Asteraceae: Address… what? That we respect the rights of artists and creators? That as content creators we most definitely have strong feelings on the effect of piracy on the ability of artist to profit from their work? That we personally know a lot of these creators being ripped off?

  51. @conor no, about the possible vested interest–after all you get a lot of your content from those creators, i didn’t say that’s why you have made your points but i think it should be declared in the interests of an open discussion…no?

  52. @Asteraceae: I’m not even sure what you mean. There is no vested interest other than what I stated above.

  53. you’ve always struck me as intelligent people–are you really telling me you don’t even know what i mean? you can disagree, that’s fine…you would know better than me anyway. but i think most people will see the point…

    suppose you held the opposite opinion, and wrote an article saying piracy was a good thing? would they continue to give you access, etc.? it’s easy to see that they might not!

    that doesn’t mean this is why you take the view you do, but i think it would be reasonable to acknowledge it if only to say why it isn’t really so or is not relevant. i won’t reply again because i wasn’t looking to start an argument, so i’ll say goodnight (or whatever time it is for you) and best wishes

  54. So ESPN can’t write articles saying steroids are bad for baseball without a disclaimer that states that they make their livelihoods writing about and interviewing sports figures who also hold that opinion?

  55. Torrenting is not against the law everywhere. Last time I checked (several years ago) Canadian laws only targeted unlawful distribution not consumption. I’ll check again.