Tagged: Comixology

Marc Alan Fishman: The Swift Response To Save Starving Artists

Taylor Swift AppleYou might know her from too many pop-drivel hits on the radio. You might know her as the girl who always mouths the words and wriggles in her seat at all the award shows. But did you know Taylor Swift is also a militant defender of starving artists?

In a blog aptly titled “To Apple, Love Taylor.”  Taylor Swift laid into Apple (the computer company that also makes shiny, expensive phones, tablets and watches) over their recent announcement to compete in the streaming music game.

The Apple Music™ streaming service is being given away for free for three months, after which it becomes a $9.95 a month albatross around the necks of those who subscribe. True to their hipster-by-way-of-fascism business plan, Apple didn’t plan on reimbursing all of the artists for any plays of their music during this free period, believing this goodwill would ultimately pan out in a better-than-Spotify payment plan thereafter. Pure. Unadulterated. Evil.

So sayeth Lady Swift.

Taylor was swift to point out (nyuck nyuck) that Apple has the deep pockets and full coffers with which to pay for the play, as-it-were. So, a little shame here, a little bad PR there, and poof, Apple conceded. The day was saved. And the haters? Well, they can hate-hate-hate-hate. Funny enough? At first I was one of those haters.

I admit it. I read her well-articulated argument and honestly scoffed. Standing on a soapbox for the little guy just didn’t vibe with me. When she mentions – bleeding heart in hand – that “… the new artist or band that has just released their first single … will not be paid for its success.” I literally laughed out loud. The last time I checked, when a new artist pops on the scene and releases their first single they can’t give it away fast enough. It’s a music video on YouTube. It’s streaming on ReverbNation, Soundcloud, and BandCamp. It’s pushed out to as many venues as humanly possible. Why? Because by now, most musicians know that album sales when you’re unknown do not bring you the money touring will. And what better way to pack a house than to get your single out there and attract a crowd! I’d convinced myself that three months of free music would not be the end of the world for a small act trying to get bigger.

But why did I think that?

Because, dear reader, I am conditioned to be a patsy. Seven years as an indie book publisher has rendered me nigh-idiotic in the face of outright larceny. Where Taylor was talking about music, I immediately thought to comics. Specifically, I thought about ComiXology.

Where not three months ago I “accepted” the terms that traded Unshaven Comics’ right to set the price on our books on their Submit program for ComiXology’s desire to occasionally discount. “Why not,” I thought, “if it means more books get into readers hands? Who cares about a few bucks?”


When a good friend of mine asked me to join his free online comic sharing website, Unshaven Comics discussed it for a solid 30 seconds before I was wrapping up our Samurnauts: Genesis issue ready for upload. “Why not,” I thought, “if it means more people see who we are … surely they’ll enjoy the free book and then support us with a purchase!”

It’s been the M.O. of those who seek to abuse the artists of the world. Exposure will somehow lead to fame and fortune. Yet I can’t honestly think of a single case where that actually worked. Yet so many of my compatriots in comics will open their arms at the opportunity without thinking twice. Is it simply a naïve outlook on life that leads us to welcome being played? How many countless webcomics exist pumping out free content, in hopes you’ll click that Google ad near it to earn them that fraction of a penny?

Let’s cut the crap: You don’t click that ad. You don’t buy the album if it’s available free on Spotify. You tell yourself you’ll do the right thing. But when no one is looking? You don’t. I know, because I don’t. I’m not a bad person for it either. I’m human. I’m broke. And I enjoy not having to pay for things.

So, to you, dear Taylor, I apologize. Your defense of the defenseless is applauded.

Now, if you could start reading comics, it would sure help me shake off the bad blood I have for an industry from which I will never, ever, ever get my fair.


Martha Thomases: Comics Read Women?


Sunday is the longest day of the year. If the rain holds off, we will enjoy the most sunlight possible.

I was thinking about this when I read a few recent news stories about our beloved comic book industry. The most amazing was a group of articles in the Arts and Leisure section of the Sunday New York Times, celebrating the 25th anniversary of Canadian publisher Drawn & Quarterly. From the front-page placement in the section to the double-spread jump (including this profile of D&Q’s greatest and most promising creators, it was the most attention to the graphic story-telling medium I can remember in the so-called “newspaper of record.”

The reason the Times thought the publisher had survived and thrived? By publishing works that appeal to women readers, including books by women.

In other news …

Comixology is using San Diego Comic-Con exclusives to promote comics to women readers.

And because subscription boxes are apparently a thing (I have one for my cat) another company is using SDCC to draw in female customers.

When I started to work in comics, I would never have been able to imagine a time when women would make up so much of the comics industry, nor could I imagine we would be courted to become more. Twenty years ago, when we started Friends of Lulu, I don’t think any of us thought this day would come. Both Marvel and DC trumpet their still tentative attempts at inclusion.

At this rate, any day now we’ll see panels on conventions on the topic of “Men in Comics.” Audience members will ask panelists how they juggle work with home life, and panelists will complain that others presume their success comes from the way they strut around in revealing outfits, or because the women editors they’re sleeping with give them work..

Because I’m a Jewish New Yorker, I find myself unable to completely enjoy this moment. I worry it can’t last. I’m afraid that any dip in the market will be blamed on the new female audience. Already, among the more paranoid fanboys, there is the suggestion that women are only getting work because of some feminist mafia that controls American capitalism.

The way we’re going to get more books that appeal to women is to buy more books that appeal to women. Fortunately, that isn’t just one kind of book. Women have as many different favorite books as men do. Sometimes they are even the same.

Next week, it will start to get dark again. Be sure to start storing comics for the later. Winter is coming.


Mike Gold: Gerry Conway, Freedom Fighter

I’ve been reading Gerry Conway’s new Amazing Spider-Man mini-series (or whatever; contemporary comic book numbering would even baffle the ancient Romans who had no concept of “zero.”) and I’m enjoying it… but not in the way I expected. I expected Classic Conway, which is fine. What we got was a solid Spidey story written in a very contemporary style.

But that’s not this old dog’s only new trick.

Gerry’s been very busy standing up for creators’ rights; obviously, including his own. His efforts have earned praise from Neal Adams, the medium’s worthy and long-time leader in the ongoing battle for creators’ rights. Most recently, he’s been commenting on DC’s latest talent-relations habit where they would bonus comics talent for extra-media use of characters they created. If the creation was at all derivative, DC no longer feels the need (non-contractual obligation based upon decades of precedent) to write a check. For example, Gerry Conway created Power Girl – with artists Ric Estrada and Wally Wood – but, because Power Girl is “derivative” of Superman, no bonus. One would think the character is derivative of a certain soon-to-be-televised Marvel superhero, but that’s a story for a different legal team. DC can define derivative any way it wants, but the end result is that money that once went into creators’ pockets now stays in DC’s.

The fact is, any character created for the DC Universe is derivative at least in part simply because it must exist in the DC Universe and honor the DCU’s laws of physics. The old bonus thing is now meaningless because the creator has no recourse except to complain. There is no incentive to trust DC with your new creation because they feel you’re lucky to walk away with your page rate intact. Maybe.

From this point forward, only an idiot or a newbie would create a character for the company. The DC Universe, perpetually fighting eight decades of staleness, is going to continue to press the Reboot Button like some crack monkey in a lab.

This is hardly Gerry’s first rodeo at the Freedom Fighters’ Ranch. Way back in 2014, Gerry wrote a very impressive piece that was reprinted in Forbes Magazine about how Amazon’s acquisition of Comixology hurts comics creators.

This is so important that I’m actually putting it in a separate paragraph and italicizing it:

What hurts comics creators hurts comics readers, and hurts the entire comics medium.

I must make two disclaimers. First, I’ve known Gerry for, oh damn, almost 40 years. That’s frightening… for Gerry. Second, Gerry Conway has created or co-created the Punisher, Firestorm, Steel, The Deserter (my favorite; sadly, it fell victim to the DC Implosion), Killer Croc, Tombstone, Man-Thing, Killer Frost (if you watch The Flash teevee show, that would be Caitlin Snow) and just under a zillion others. So, yeah, it’s his ox that’s being gored, but when you’re right, you’re right.

And Gerry Conway is right.

By the way, you’ll note I called Gerry an “old dog” up in the second paragraph. For the record, he’s two years younger than I am. So I mean “old dog” in the nicest, Scoobie-Doo sort of way.


Marc Alan Fishman: Into the Great Digital Marketplace!

When Unshaven Comics released its first publication, The March: Crossing Bridges in America, digital comic bookery was still mostly magic. The next year, when we released Disposable Razors #1, a glut of apps flooded the market promising the future for the indies, and ComicMix was knee-deep in online readers. Our books remained ink and paper. Our sales climbed.

The next year, a few of the apps went the way of Star Trek Voyager and Deep Space Nine. Disposable Razors #2 remained a glossy non-app. By the third issue, fewer apps remained commercially viable. Front-runners were forming, and Unshaven met every fan questioning when we’d offer our wares online met with the same confounded faces. Three more years passed, and we remained stubborn. And finally today, I’m happy to say we’ve joined the digital age.

You still can’t get our books digitally as of this posting… but it’s happening none-the-less.

In our defense, Unshaven Comics largely refused to take ourselves into digital comics because we were skeptical of a glut of things. Amongst them: how ubiquitous a platform and file-type might be, how payments would be processed, and how we could connect with fans if they downloaded our books (legally or otherwise) leaving us to sign napkins at the con for nickels.

Suffice to say, that glut is mostly dust now. ComiXology has arisen as the most adopted platform for digital books. Purchases on their app exist as licenses to read and enjoy for life. Of course if they go belly up, who knows. But I guess that’s part of the fun. Payments for indie guys like Unshaven Comics come once a quarter. And you get 50% of what comes in for your books. And as far as con-goers… well, it took long enough to grasp, but we finally get it. The world can exist with both a collectible market and a commodity market.

You can’t get Scott Snyder to sign Batman #75 on your iPad. Well, you could, but that might be awkward if you go back to read the issue. That, and people might think you stole your iPad from Scott, since he wrote his name on it, and that won’t end well for anyone. The digital comic marketplace is built for those looking to consume more than collect. Convention tables sell items for those looking for the opposite. I’ve long read e-mail chains from ComicMix’s Mike Gold over his continually growing digital pile of books he’s currently plowing through.

Quite frankly, who could blame him. The next time I know I’ll be leaving on a jet plane with hours to spend sitting, waiting, flying, and then sitting and waiting more… knowing that I could load up my iPad with a few volumes of all those books I’ve been meaning to absorb could be the difference between memorizing a SkyMall, or actually consuming something amazing. (Sadly, yesterday SkyMall filed for bankruptcy. I totally wanted one of those hot dog toasters because why not. But I digress.)

So, Unshaven Comics will soon be on ComiXology, via their “Submit” program. Off the cuff, it’s a great idea that is being crushed under its own weight. We Unshaven lads submitted our first issue of Curse of the Dreadnuts back in July of 2014. A few days ago, we were accepted in. Now, there was little to no explanation as to whether an initial submission takes longer than subsequent offerings, or if the program is simply that backlogged. And when I say “little to no” I mean “none.”

Beggars can’t be choosers, and I assume that the length of time it takes to get from submitted to being in-app is in direct correlation to the sheer number of indie creators attempting to push their way through. And given the likelihood of the mountainous sales one assumes come with e-publishing a book from the kids down the street, it’s not a surprise if ComiXology doesn’t place more emphasis on expedience with the program.

But let’s get back to the bigger point. After years of fighting it, Unshaven Comics has given in to the digital devil. The fact that with a little promotion, a little luck, and maybe just a lot more luck, we might move a few issues. And perhaps in another five months another issue will hit that digital rack, ready for hungry fans.

The system can only improve with time. Technology will continue to be adopted at incredible rates. Media will continue to exist in the shifting sands of ownership versus permanent rentals. And comic book creators will have a new avenue in which to compete with the big boys. And while our place within the app will be akin to our meager alley tables at the big conventions…

A spot on the floor is all it takes to earn a fan. Digital or otherwise.


Mike Gold:  Electronic Comics – The Next Generation

iPad ComicsThe distribution system that provided us with books, magazines, newspapers and comics started falling apart some 60 years ago. The term “newsstand” is no more relevant today than the term “buggy whip,” newspapers are folding so fast it’s affecting fish sales, and magazines are mostly sold at the bookstore chains that are going out of business faster than a speeding bullet. So it’s no surprise that I think the tablet computer is the greatest thing to happen to the publishing industry since Guttenberg learned how to spell.

The problem with comic books is that, while they look better and read better on tablets, for the past 20 years or so we’ve repositioned comic books into collectibles, with a half-dozen collectible covers and multiple printings and all sorts of folderol. Do people buy comics for the stories any more?

Well, yes we do, but more and more in the form of trade paperbacks, omnibus editions, and electronic downloads. The average sale of a traditional 32-page pamphlet comic book, even those featuring most major characters, is embarrassing. Sales have been growing lately, but a publisher wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning if he or she had to justify all that expense and lousy cash flow strictly by pamphlet sales.

History has shown us comic book readers like to keep their comics around. I don’t know why; the idea that you’ll want to refer to them in the future is enticing but impractical. Nonetheless, we usually keep our comics around for a while.

This is why I think last week the comic book medium quietly entered a critical new phase. ComiXology, the leading distributor of electronic comics, has entered into agreements to allow you do keep your downloads on your computers and sundry storage media. You will no longer be dependent upon access to decent Wi-Fi to get the comics you paid for, you will no longer live in fear that the electronic distribution service might go out of business and obliviate your collection.

In other words, you get to keep your comics. You pay for it, you keep it.

Initially, only a handful of publishers are allowing ComiXology to sell their comics DRM-free. That’s “digital rights management,” for those of you who are merely semi-nerds. The initial participating publishers are Image Comics, Dynamite Entertainment, Zenoscope Entertainment, Thrillbent, Top Shelf and MonkeyBrain. These are not outfits that publish out of their garages.

All of these outfits already have dabbled in DRM-free distribution, but in their brief existence ComiXology has sold upwards of a quarter-billion digital comics. That’s one powerful distribution service. So big, in fact, that Amazon bought the company last April.

Will Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, IDW, Archie and the rest join in? I’m dubious about Marvel and DC because their parent companies, Disney and Warner Bros (and maybe soon Rupert Murdoch) react to bootlegging the way slugs react to salt. They conflate electronic distribution with bootlegging. Of course, iTunes and the rest sell a hell of a lot of DRM-free stuff and it’s actually easier to bootleg it for free than it is to enter all that information. But people pay for millions of digital downloads every day. Why should comics be any different?

Of course, that tablet will change just like every other electronic toy. Smartphones are getting bigger, “laptop” computers are getting lighter and thinner, and it won’t be long before there’s another game-changer device that will be better and cooler. I’m thinking direct chip implants to the brain. So the question is, even if comics sales thrive on tablets and computers, will they adapt to whatever’s next?

I sure hope so.


ComicMix Quick Picks: April 2, 2014

ComicMix Quick Picks: April 2, 2014

A Wednesday Window Closing Wrap-Up™ for y’all. Here we go:

Anything else? Consider this an open thread.
(Poster art by Tom Whalen)

Comixology Hacked – Change Your Passwords Now!

comics_by_comixology_logo_black_text_low_resComixology sent out an email this morning discussing a security breach:

Dear Comics Reader,

In the course of a recent review and upgrade of our security infrastructure, we determined that an unauthorized individual accessed a database of ours that contained usernames, email addresses, and cryptographically protected passwords.

Payment account information is not stored on our servers.

Even though we store our passwords in protected form, as a precautionary measure we are requiring all users to change their passwords on the comiXology platform and recommend that you promptly change your password on any other website where you use the same or a similar password. You can reset your comiXology.com password here.

We have taken additional steps to strengthen our security procedures and systems, and we will continue to implement improvements on an ongoing basis.

Please note that we will never ask you for personal or account information in an e-mail, so exercise caution if you receive emails that ask for personal information or direct you to a site where you are asked to provide personal information.

We apologize for the inconvenience. If you have any questions, please contact us by sending an email to support@comixology.com



Well, isn’t that a fun thing for the morning.

Marc Alan Fishman: Cutting the Cord, and Shredding the Book

The other day Mike Gold shot me a quick e-mail about the WWE Network making its way to Apple TV. I should take this time to note that Mike likes me more than Michael Davis because I give him my articles on Tuesday evening, and they don’t post until Saturday… allowing him optimal time to source images at his leisure. Suffice to say, nya nya nya boo boo. Maybe that’s mean of me, it is Black History Month, after all. According to Jay Pharoah, I should opt to hug MOTU, not take pot shots at his obviously racial laziness. Damn, I’m punchy tonight. But I digress.

I’m punchy, in part, because Mike’s friendly e-mail reminded me that in my own laziness, I’d allowed a whole new technological break-through to settle into near-mainstream amongst my peers without me even considering it. For a good long time  ‘cutting the cord’ on traditional cable was more a signifier of pro-active TV consumption than I cared to debate mentally. With new technology emerging, I simply didn’t ‘buy’ that I could enjoy all that I do via my traditional cable/DVR combo. I should note though that I grew up in a home without cable. When I made my way to college, faced with the sudden luxury of dozens of channels churning out reruns and crappy original programming I’d never been previously accustomed to led me down a dark and slovenly path. Frankly, it’s been the drug I couldn’t quit ever since. Well, that and carbohydrates.

I’d like to think it was my generation that started a small march towards technological freedom. I recall fondly upon signing my first lease for an apartment declaring no need to own a home phone. My parents gawked at the notion. “How will we get a hold of you?!” they’d scream. “Oh, I don’t know, you could call my cell phone, which is literally on my person at all times I’m not otherwise sleeping?” I’d retort like a hipster ordering a Miller Lite. And thus, did me and my kin take our first awkward steps from out of the cave. Soon, we were graduating from MySpace to Facebook, and getting real jobs. City-dwelling friends of mine ditched cars in lieu of state-of-the-art (smells a bit, but it’s cheaper than gas!) public transportation. And now, those who share in muh-muh-my generation are shunning Xfinity, Uverse and Ycable for a whole new shebang.

The future is now, and we better start dealing with it.

I turn back to the argument I started a few weeks prior. I postulated that if someone could figure a way to Netflix up a comic book database, it might very well be the way to take the leap into the next generation. Screw the motion comics, augmented reality links, and ultimate experiences. Deliver me a litany of comic book content on-demand, for a monthly fee so low I can’t possibly deny myself access. If my dream for ComicFlix were to come true… how long would it take to see the death of the local comic shop?

That is to say, the death of what few comic shops still are in business and making enough money to stay in business beyond the calendar year with sincerity.

Let’s ask the tough questions then. Did we all mourn the loss of Blockbusters around the country? When you go to the Comic Con and snag that graphic novel you really wanted for 50% off cover price, do you hide it under your jacket, and leave yourself a reminder to never bring it up at the comic shop for fear the counter jockey will shame you to tears as he eats his last bowl of cup-a-noodles? Doubtful on both counts. Do we come to grips with the moral dilemma of watching our medium take the necessary steps to grow… or do we cling to the past in hopes that somehow everything will just get better though sheer will power? I mean, all those successful movies will get the masses over to invest in pull boxes at some point, right? Right?

Sean Parker and the late Steve Jobs used technology to upend the music industry… services like Spotify, Pandora, and the like are set to revolutionize it. Google, Roku, Hulu, and Netflix are on their way to evolving television. All content delivery is evolving at a rapid pace. The antiquated world of comics is not an uncrackable nut. There’s money to be made, content to be shared, and new fans to convert. If we build it, they will come. It won’t be pretty. But what matters now more than ever is that we find a way to adapt. Pulp and paper can be as good as bytes and pixels. It’s time to put the books down, and flip the tablets on.

That being said, I have a review to do, and I need to crack open my copy of Avengers World. I know, I know… But I have an excuse. My wife has the iPad. Cheers to the future kiddos. Hop on the band wagon before it starts to pick up speed. Lest you have a man a decade or two older making you feel like a luddite. Natch.

Mindy Newell: Blood And Streams

Newell Art 140120“Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” – Gene Fowler

 “It is only when you open your veins and bleed onto the page a little that you establish contact with your reader. If you do not believe in the characters or the story you are doing at that moment with all your mind, strength, and will, if you don’t feel joy and excitement while writing it, then you’re wasting good white paper, even if it sells, because there are other ways in which a writer can bring in the rent money besides writing bad or phony stories.” – Paul Gallico

 “Writing is easy. You just open a vein and bleed.” – “Red” Smith

 “The road to hell is paved with works-in-progress.” – Philip Roth

 “The road to hell is paved with adverbs” – Stephen King


Maybe you’ve figured out by now that today I’ve got nothing. Zip. Nada. A big Krispy Kreme donut hole. So I’ll just do a bit of stream of consciousness and see what comes pouring out.

Chris Christie. I don’t know why it took so long for Bridgegate to become front-page news. Everybody who lived in New Jersey last August seemed to know that the closing of the entrances to the GW Bridge was a political bullshit thing. Traffic study? C’mon, this is New Jersey. Everybody knows that the traffic at the GW Bridge sucks 23 out of 24 hours a day. You need a traffic stuffy for that?

What I don’t get, what everybody in New Jersey, home to Tony Soprano and Enoch “Nucky” Johnson (renamed Thompson in Boardwalk Empire) and the dirtiest politics in America, doesn’t get is how Christie’s staff could be so stupid as use e-mail in planning and enacting their stupid pet tricks. As to “was the boss in on it?” and “did Christie know and when did he know it?” You could bowl me over with a spoon if it turns out that the Governor was ignorant of his staff’s shenanigans. But I won’t be surprised if he comes out of this smelling, if not like a rose, at least then like a refurbished brownstone in downtown Jersey City. A function of all political flunkies is, after all, to fall upon their sword for God, Country, and Emperor when necessary, and I think that’s what’s going to happen.

“Ignore the barrage of violent threats and harassing messages that confront you online every day.” That’s what women are told. But these relentless messages are an assault on women’s careers, their psychological bandwidth, and their freedom to live online. We have been thinking about Internet harassment all wrong. That’s the journalistic “hook” for Amanda Hess’s cover story “Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet” in Pacific Standard magazine appeared on January 6, 2014, and the story’s first paragraphs are about her experience of receiving death threats over Twitter while on vacation in Palm Springs. Amanda Hess was on the Brian Lehrer show last week to talk about this. I couldn’t hear the whole thing because she came on in the second half of the show and I had to go into work, but I sat in the parking lot as long as I could listening and thought of all the stories I’ve heard this year from my friends in the comics industry. I’m thinking that maybe the end of “net neutrality” isn’t such a bad idea after all. Maybe making it a little harder to have full access to the web will help cut this shit out?

Nah. To quote Scotty in The Search For Spock, “the more they over think the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain.” I don’t know what the answer is, but it aggravates the hell out of me.

I adore my grandchild, Meyer Manual. I adore watching Alix and Jeff be parents. But I still can’t get used to the word “Grandma.” It just doesn’t fit into my self-image vocabulary. Isn’t that incredibly fucked-up? I am trying to think of another “name” for myself to have him call me. When Alix first began to talk she called my parents by their first names, and continued to do so for a very long time; I don’t remember when she stopped and started calling them Grandma and Grandpa, but I do remember that my father didn’t like being called Meyer at first – “I’m your grandfather, not your friend” – but when Alix grew into calling him Grandpa, he missed the first-name bit. I think some part of him was longing for that tiny little toddler. Me, I’d love it if little Meyer calls me Mindy. What the hell, I’ve always been an iconoclast, why stop now? On the other hand, I don’t care what he calls me, as long as he calls me (she said in her best Groucho Marx imitation).

Speaking of my father, we took him out on Saturday night to celebrate his birthday. I told you about how he kept eating the french fries as my brother “Heimliched” my mom, how he’s in his own “Never-never land” most of the time, and how in so many ways my father is gone. And yet, sometimes there’s the glimmer of the old Meyer. My brother ordered a vodka gimlet for him, specifying “Stoly’s.” The waiter repeats it, “Yes, sir, vodka gimlet with Stoly’s” and suddenly my father intercedes. “Ketel.” “You want Ketel 1?” my brother said. He nodded, and then he lapsed back into that place where he lives most of the time. But later, while driving home, Alix told Jeff and I that she heard my dad tell Isabel “it’s an honor to be here with you and the baby to celebrate my 91st birthday.”

Been thinking about the lack of comics in this house for the last year (for financial reasons, as I mentioned in a previous column). Been thinking that I might head over to Comixology or one of the other sites and do some downloading to catch up. Definitely cheaper. But only as a temporary measure. Somehow not holding the comic in my hand while reading seems wrong to me. Well, if not wrong, then weird. Maybe that makes me a Luddite, but if Jim Kirk can read A Tale of Two Cities in hardcover in the 24th century and Jean-Luc Picard treasures his copy of Moby Dick in the 26th, then I’m just doing my part to ensure that real books hang around for future generations.

And, yes, comics count as real books.

Blood has been spilt in their making.

TUESDAY: Jen Krueger





Martin Pasko: You’ve Got Mail! We Just Don’t Know Where It Is…

pasko-art-130912-150x186-1980249Please believe me, as I conclude last week’s well-reasoned and temperate dissertation on why comics fans should care – maybe – about the future of the US Postal Service, when I say I’m trying hard to wrap up this little opus before the USPS goes out of business.

But I’m not working as fast nor concentrating as well as I’d like because I’ve just been distracted by another “gotcha” courtesy of my BMK – Bad Mail Karma. It illustrates one of the more interesting by-products of the USPS’s ongoing effort to modernize, simplify and streamline its products and services even as Congress calls for a postal austerity program:

When a customer confused by the ever-changing policies (that would be moi) makes a minor mistake, the USPS’s systems will helpfully turn it into an exhausting, nerve-wracking Major Hassle by preventing it from being corrected.

In my recent move back to Southern California, I managed to outsmart myself by sending ahead of me a USPS Priority Mail box of important items that I’d need before the moving van arrived with my everyday stuff. It has yet to arrive, some eight weeks later. It seems I used Priority Mail packaging that was not a flat rate box, but to which I incorrectly affixed flat rate postage generated online. OK, my bad.

That does not explain, however, why it took the P.O. four weeks to determine that that was the problem; why its online tracking system kept giving me information that contradicted the tracking data in the main USPS computer; nor why the package has now crossed the country four times, having been shipped back and forth between my old address and the new, each time being flagged in the system as undeliverable” or sent to “no such address.”

The helpful people I’ve dealt with at my local P.O. – six of them now, because the same people don’t seem to work there for more than five days in a row – can’t seem to figure it out, either. One “Letter Carrier Supervisor” told me, “I’ve been working here 30 years and I’ve never seen anything like this.” Of course, that may be because she apparently takes 147 coffee breaks a day.

This might also explain why she can’t get her direct reports to do what the three other supervisors have told me they will: When the package ricochets back here to Pasadena, they’ll call me so I can come pay the extra postage and pick it up. When last heard from, the package was at some “claims resolution” facility in Atlanta, but was supposed to be on its way back here. That was two weeks ago.

Now, imagine that this box had been, say, a shipment of comics from a private eBay seller for which you were waiting breathlessly. (Yes, small, private sellers often make honest mistakes. I hasten to add, though, that as someone who sells on eBay, I’ve been lucky – so far – not to make this kind of mistake with a customer’s package. And you can be sure I’m doubly careful now.)

This is a microcosmic example of the kind of thing comics fans will probably be saying good-bye to soon, mournfully or otherwise, having been left to the tender mercies of those even bigger screw-ups, UPS and DHL. The macrocosmic version is what I described last week: A stamp-related custom comic project that was extraordinarily successful for DC Comics (the aggregate print run for the nine CTC books I discussed added up to over 10 million) turned out to be a dismal failure for the USPS. This, only because the agency couldn’t secure the content approval from its licensors – the owners of several of the stamp subjects’ IT – in time to get the books out, to serve as collectors’ albums for the CTC series, at the same time as the stamps themselves.

And it’s too bad, really, this suicidal ineptitude, since comics fans once had a friend in the postal service. It was tangentially responsible for the creation of letters columns which, in the earliest days of comics fanzines and well before web sites and comment forums, became the principal means by which comics fans exchanged opinions about talent and continuity developments and, from the addresses printed, gained the means to interact and organize. These “LOC” pages came about because postal regulations required comics to have at least a page of text to qualify for their mailing rate. When the previous practice of hiring writers to create original prose fillers became prohibitively expensive, the “lettercols” were born.

Soon, those who self-identified as serious fans and collectors became the only readers who were so hell-bent on getting their monthly “fix” that they’d be willing to subscribe. But they were dissuaded from doing so because they didn’t want their mint-condition comics given a permanent vertical crease by being folded lengthwise to fit into a narrow wrapper, which was the only cost-effective way to send comics through the mail. So you can thank USPS, then, for killing this in favor of what took another decade to develop, with the growth of specialty retail shops: the pull-and-hold service.

Today, the Postal Service searches for new services it can provide http://www.informationweek.com/government/security/postal-service-pilots-next-gen-authentic/240145559, to replace the ones it has screwed up so badly that they’ve become obsolete. One of its ideas is to get itself into the “identity management business.” The fact that the average citizen can’t figure out what, in fact, “identity management” is should in no way deter the USPS from this worthy goal. It might keep them occupied so that other companies will have to deliver all the packages, and our paychecks will all be issued by Direct Deposit and have no trouble finding their way into our bank accounts.

Of course, thereafter we’ll be unable to access our funds, because our identity will have “managed” to change – to that of someone we’ve never heard of in a zip code that hasn’t been invented yet. (Remind me not to tell you about how my previous address in Pennsylvania, a rural route which was given a normal house-number in “The Monroe County Readdressing Project”  … with the result that my online change-of-address form couldn’t be processed properly because the old address wasn’t in the USPS database.)

Meanwhile, I’ve decided to stop oiling my old spinner-rack and instead donate it to a nursing home. I’m going to shop for comics via ComiXology exclusively, and work on figuring out how to get my new tech for promoting pacifism and conservation of labor, to make plastic staples. Once everyone on eBay is shipping via UPS, and we have the technology to totally recreate “floppies” in our own homes, the world’s Geeks – comic book division – won’t have anything to fear from the P.O. anymore, whatsoever.

FRIDAY MORNING: Martha Thomases

FRIDAY AFTERNOON: Michael Davis (honest)