-Not really a review, but a note of appreciation for Bookhunter; if you want a real review, you couldn't do much better than Dirk Deppey's. I mostly want to say this: if libraries have been a big part of your life, you will want to read this book. Back in my childhood/adolescence, I spent a lot of time in libraries. I liked our local branch just fine, but the main county library was almost magical. The building was one that would have looked modern in the middle of the 20th century--very flat, lots of blue-tinted glass and white bricks. It was much darker and much, much larger than our local branch. Downstairs, there was a room reserved for children's entertainment--puppet shows, mostly. The children's section was enormous, with murals on the walls and toys in the center of the room. The main reading room was imposing, surrounded by the main fiction stacks on one side and the genre fiction on the other (paperbacks in spinner racks), right next to several big, two-story windows. The nonfiction was upstairs, with a balcony looking down on the reading room. That's where my brother and I found many of the books which expanded our love of comics beyond superheroes: Fantagraphics' The Best Comics of the Decade, books about Pogo and Krazy Kat, a collection of Pat Oliphant cartoons, histories of comics which included underground cartoonists other than Robert Crumb, and even Lorenzo Mattoti's Fires. And right next to the comics section (in the mid-700s) was a mysterious employees-only area, shrouded in darkness, yet made all the more intriguing by a large window affording glimpses into this world.
And that's not even getting into all the time I've spent in various university libraries, some of which were legitimately Sala-esque. I want to emphasize, however, that my psychological attachment to libraries was not a precondition for enjoying Bookhunter. Even not plagued by such strong bibliophilic memories will find it incredibly entertaining for reasons best explained by Deppey in the link above (here it is again, for the lazy reader). But people who share my strange fascination with libraries will find special pleasure in reading Bookhunter.
-With all the talk of the impending deaths of formats and whatnot, I thought I'd once again share my completely uninformed, unrealistic solution, a clumsy application of elements of the manga publishing model on North American comics. It goes something like this: DC and Marvel should stratify their main lines into three categories--one for kids, one for the dedicated fan, and one for "prestige" projects. The latter would be totally untethered to continuity and would feature works by creators whose approach might be too idiosyncratic to exist in today's "shared universe" publishing model. Kind of like what the All-Star line was intended to be. These comics might or might not be serialized in pamphlet form, but most sales would come from collected, graphic novel-type volumes.
The hardcore fan-oriented line would be condensed into big, thick anthologies, perhaps with a production process similar to the television model being used by Countdown: one or two head writers producing outlines for a staff of several writers, each of whom would be assigned a strip (or possibly multiple strips). The art process would be further broken into assembly line steps, with dedicated layout artists separate from the penciller. These anthologies would be printed on cheaper paper than today's DC/Marvel books, but would still be in full color. The stories would be dense, giving readers a whole lot of bang for the buck. The anthology format would allow Marvel and DC to cycle through intellectual properties, while maintaining that "shared universe" dynamic so important to many superhero fans. The individual strips would eventually be collected in some type of format, so that readers wouldn't be forced to buy an anthology if they were only interested in comics starring the Flash or Wolverine or whoever.
The children's line would follow the same anthology format, but with more attention paid to synergy with cartoon and/or movie versions of the characters. Stories would be self-contained, for the most part.
There are a ton of problems with this plan, the biggest being that it would drastically reduce sales volume in DM stores. I don't want that to happen; it's the people buying every X-title who allow stores to stay in business, which in turn allows me to buy the comics I want to buy at my local comic shop. But if the Direct Market were to collapse at some point, a series of anthologies might not be the worst way to go. I mean, assuming we're ignoring the internet here. In any event, I would think that the comics industry would be in better shape today if that model had been adopted in the 80s. But that's not an especially useful way of looking at current problems in the industry. And declining manga sales suggest that the anthology model is no panacea. So what I'm basically saying is, we'll look back on this conversation in 20 years and laugh, remembering a time when human beings could sit around and speculate on the future of comic books rather than trying to fight off the marauding motorcycle gangs who prey on our fragile communities in their ongoing search for food and petroleum.
(Oh, and on the same subject: Stuart Moore repeatedly mentions on this Beat thread that overall sales are up for comics (and I assume he's referring to North American-produced comics sold in the Direct Market here). I thought the current fretting wasn't due to reduced aggregate sales, but dips in the sales of mid-line titles. Like, the big crossovers are stealing readers away from the mid-level titles. Now, to say that's bad, you have to put a little trust in anecdotal evidence--like growing negative reaction to all these fucking crossovers on the internet. And then you could look at sales figures for something like Fables--they're remarkably even from month to month. Put them together and you get this: You hype the latest crossover to hell, browbeating your reader into buying everything connected with it. But since this hypothetical reader needs to eat, certain sacrifices must be made--in this case, Dependable Mid-Level Title is dropped in favor of Countdown to Infinite Whatever: The Search for H.E.R.B.I.E. So sales drop on Dependable Mid-Level Title and it gets canceled, or a new creative team turns it into something unrecognizable. Then the reader (and this is speculation based on anecdotal evidence) gets burned out on crossover mega-events and just quits reading comics. A lot of things happened in the 90s which nearly killed off the industry. This phenomenon was not the most important factor, or even one of the five most important factors, but it was a factor.)
(Oh, and if TPB sales offset lowered pamphlet sales, thus making Vertigo basically healthy, how can you explain the cancellation of American Virgin, especially with four other ongoing titles selling around the same level or lower? Are those titles (Exterminators, Army@Love, Scalped, and Crossing Midnight) going to significantly outpace American Virgin's GN sales? If not, then surely they're in imminent danger of cancellation, right? That's four titles in total--a quarter of Vertigo's current, uncanceled, ongoing output (the other titles are Hellblazer, Fables, Jack of Fables, Y the Last Man, 100 Bullets, Un-Men, and DMZ, plus the newly-launched Vinyl Underground). And of those remaining titles, Y is months away from wrapping up and Un-Men isn't really burning up the sales charts. Surely this talk of problems at Vertigo is more than half-baked rhetoric, yes?)
(And just to repeat myself, I very much want to see a successful Vertigo, because I think it's good for the overall health of the Direct Market. More importantly, it funnels in new readers into other (better) comics, and I'd like to see the people who make those comics be able to make a decent living off of them.)
-Two quick Trader Joe's reviews:
Colombian House Blend French Roast whole bean coffee: This was perfectly fine, about as good as what I normally drink in any coffee house around town (bearing in mind that 99% of the time I order the darkest roast available and drink it black). Sigh. Maybe I'm getting to that stage in my life where I only want to consume one particular product for every product category, and it's gotta be French roast when it comes to coffee. But then I remember that I can't stand eating any particular breakfast cereal for more than two weeks at a time, and I think, "NO! The fault lies with the exceedingly poor quality of Trader Joe's Safari Blend! I like medium roasts, so long as they don't taste like grass!"
While we're on the subject, do any of you out there go to coffee houses which feature more than, like, three types of coffee at any given time? I mean, are there parts of the country which have massive cafes with 10+ blends sitting in the carafes? That's my dream coffee house, sort of like those bars with several dozen beers on tap and several hundred in bottle, including all those fruity Belgian beers which don't really taste like beer at all. Mmm, Lindeman's Frambroise. Even better, Lindeman's Pomme.
Country Italian artisan bread: I assume that the nature of Trader Joe's artisan breads vary significantly by bakery, so your local store might not carry the version of this which severely strained my jaw muscles last night. This is an insanely chewy bread, with a positively rubbery crust. I've never had so much trouble eating bread before. It tastes very good, and has a very rustic texture--beneath the crust. I'd describe the crust's texture as akin to industrial-grade sound dampening material.