Thursday, June 17, 2010

Too much cost, not enough fun

Mainstream comic books might be making a $1 price leap to $3.99, but I haven’t paid four bucks for a new superhero comic book in more than 15 years.

Buying comic books in New Zealand has always been an expensive habit, but this latest price leap is much worse than usual. With comics traditionally costing about three times as much as the comic price in local currency, a $1 price increase leads to a rise of almost $3 in local money, and that’s just too much.

It’s nothing new - I can remember when comic readers in the US moaned about issues going from 75c to $1, when it meant comics in my neck of the woods were going from $2.15 to $2.99. It was unfortunate, and meant I could never, ever afford all the comics I really wanted, but it also meant a bit of quality control and ensured that I’ve always got something I know I’m going to enjoy in some way

I also always figured that those kind of prices sorted out the real comic obsessives over the fair weather fans. Anybody could drop a couple of bucks on a comic, but there are no half arsed collectors when you’re shelling out well over $50 a week to buy little more than half a dozen titles.

The differences between the prices can largely be attributed to the differences between the two currencies, (the NZD is currently trading at around the US70c mark), so when there is a big currency movement, that can lead to substantial cuts or rises in local money. But the sheer fact of living on the arse end of the world means imported comics are always going to be substantially higher than the number on the cover, because you have to take into account the huge distances the books need to travel.

The worst cases of this geographic prejudice are usually found outside the mainstream, when excellent publishers like Drawn & Quarterly or Fantagraphics have had big clearence sales, with brilliant comics available for peanuts. I’ve almost bought tonnes of stuff, only to find at the very last second that the cost of freighting the books to this part of the world could literally run into hundreds of dollars, more than wiping out any gains from the sale.

But it’s the superhero comics that are easiest to give up when the cost gets too high. Up until very recently, you could usually pick up a standard new issue of any mainstream comic book for about $7.

That was all right. $7 isn’t so bad, and it’s been pretty stable about that level for quite a while. But the shift to the $3.99 price point is killing the monthly for me. Every comic that goes up to price goes right out of my range. It takes a comic that already costs about $7 a pop to closer to $10, and that’s just a bit too much.

A lift to $3.50 wouldn’t be so bad, and would push the cost to more than $8, which is okay, but there is something about that $10 mark which is just too much.

Not that there is a lot to prune out. The general mediocrity that is modern mainstream comics isn’t even worth that $7 (although I still can’t resist buying ridiculously average Superman comics if I can pick them up for a $1 each). If all Marvel superhero comics suddenly cost $3.99 next month, the only one I’d drop is Fantastic Four. (Which is no great loss, considering I’m looking for any excuse to stop buying the title. It only ended up being put aside for me because I have an uncontrollable man crush on Millar/Hitch comics and decided to give the Hickman/Eaglesham run a chance, but oddly unsatisfying art, sharply abrupt endings and a odd feeling of condescension.)

Despite a chronic inability to wrap anything up with a satisfying resolution, there is still a lot to like in DC and Marvel’s output, but none of them are worth $10. Even Batman and Robin – by far my favourite superhero comic currently being published – would get dropped like a hot potato the instant the price goes up.

Ultimately, I’m always going to spend the same amount on comics, no matter what format they’re in. But the death of the monthly needs I don’t need them right now, and I’ve surprised myself with my willingness to wait for a desired comic. (I’m still holding off on the second Seaguy series until I can get it in a book.) In a weird way, it makes it easier to avoid spoilers if you’re waiting a few months – in comic culture a couple of months is an eternity and everybody has moved on to talk about something else by the time a decent collection rolls along.

There is another option, and if I was so inclined, I could download damn near everything published every week, at no cost. But reading comics on a computer is No Fun, no matter how it is presented.

The only comics I have ever downloaded have been eight-year-old issues of the Judge Dredd Megazine and Marvel’s black and white horror magazines from the 1970s. I would still gladly, within reason, buy these issues if I could, but I have literally searched the entire country for them and come up empty and the overseas options are severely hampered by the price of postage, leading to unfortunate torrenting.

I’m also all about the object, and just don’t enjoy reading comics on a computer screen. I’ve truly enjoyed reading comics as diverse as Achewood, FreakAngels, Bayou and the Perry Bible Fellowship when they’ve been collected into print form, but have absolutely no interest in reading them off a screen. It feels too much like work.

So instead I wait, and as more monthlies price themselves out of contention, I end up waiting for more and more. It drags me out of the overall conversation about the latest comics, but that’s no great loss. I will miss going into a comic shop every week and getting a variety of different titles, but that pleasure just isn’t worth the cost any more.


Nik said...

I fully agree, mate. I keep thinking of comics here in US terms and willfully ignoring the different currency, but even so -- I've had to prune my pull list a good bit and may chop it even further, which is a bummer as I like to support our local, but $10 for 30 pages of story is just lunacy.

Bob Temuka said...

The shit part is that you don't even get 30 pages of story. I can justify that to myself, but 22-pages for $10 is not a good ratio.

It's not all bad, though. You can still get a decent collection for $35, and I remember paying that for Season of Mists in 1994. I don't mind waiting for the trade paperback - I'll be at Gotham Comics this Saturday morning to get the latest Criminal book.

I'm just going to miss getting something every month. Six months is a loooong time.