MIKE GOLD: Death to Floppy!
I was combing through the Diamond catalog, placing my family’s orders for whatever month I’m ordering for. Oh, yeah: it’s April, so I’m looking at the March catalog do order stuff coming out in May, if at all. People who grew up at comic book cover dates have a hard time working a calendar.
As every month, I am struck by the impossible number of “alternate covers” being produced by the publishers. Of course, only a fraction of them are actually solicited: some publishers slap on new covers for subsequent reprintings. This sorta makes you wonder how they knew they’d sell out early enough to commission those new covers.
I don’t have a problem with alternate covers. Whereas I rarely indulge, there are enough collectors out there to make the gimmick work, and that’s fine by me. I collect all sorts of weird stuff myself – I’ve been trying to get Denis Kitchen’s Betty Boop blow-up doll for 30 years. Certainly there’s nothing wrong doing an alternate cover stunt to celebrate a truly significant issue. But it’s being done on damn near everything these days, on routine issues of routine books, just to turn the sucker into a collectible.
Therefore, while I see nothing wrong with alternate covers, I do feel they portend the end of the world as we know it.
For years now, I’ve been referring to the 32-page comic book that virtually all of us have grown up with as a pamphlet. That’s really not very sarcastic, not for me at least. I know a lawyer who writes up contracts referring to them as “floppies,” and while I suspect he does that simply so he can track other people ripping off his language (I rewrite it as “floppettes”), he has a point. Floppies are to comic books what floppies were to the computer industry a couple years ago. On the way out. A part of our cultural history. A nostalgic crutch.
Buggy whips, as Stan Lynde (Rick O’Shay) once referred to newspaper comic strips.
At best, for most publishers 32-page pamphlets are little more than a prayer for amortizing editorial costs on the way to publishing the trade paperback, where exposure is greater and revenues are chunkier. Without the alternate cover schemes, they don’t generate all that much revenue in the way of sales and advertising, although Marvel has done wonders with their efforts to tie comic book advertising into their licensing programs.
It’s hard to find your average floppette. There are damn few actual walk-in comic book shops, supermarkets carry but a smattering of the best-known titles (and the Archie digest titles, our only real opportunity to attract young newcomers to our medium), and places like Borders fall somewhere in between, closer to the supermarket volume than that of the comic book store.
Without the floppette to fall back on, I’m not certain the numbers work out for the average trade paperback, but at least there’s some serious revenue being generated in that end of the field. A bit more risk for the publisher, a lot less risk for the comic shop owner, and the typical risk for the traditional big-box bookseller.
But I’ll tell you this: right now, I’m actively involved in almost a dozen new comics projects and the 32-page pamphlet isn’t in the business plan. We might go there on some projects if somebody can make a good case for it, but I’m not holding my breath.
As a longtime comics fan, this saddens me greatly. But I used to brush my teeth with Ipana, and I dealt with it. Well, only recently, but still…
(Mike Gold is editor-in-chief of ComicMix.com)