-Well, I tried reading Phonogram, and had to stop midway through and put on a Team Dresch album as some sort of cleansing ritual. Then I went back to reading the card collecting video game story in Hunter x Hunter. Really, as much shit as I give to DC and Marvel, I'd rather read something like Nightwing or whatever the Marvel equivalent is in terms of quality (Ultimate Fantastic Four?) than try to read another tepid alternative mainstream thing. I'm not talking about this, which I like, or this, which looks pretty cool, or this, which I've never actually gotten around to reading, but which looks good enough that I wish I had, or even this, which I'm woefully behind on but thought was pretty entertaining when I wasn't behind on it. Maybe what I'm saying is that I can't believe how many independent comics take the dullest, most stultifying conventions from superhero comics, dress it up with a few cusses and dudes with piercings, and then expect anyone to give a shit. That might not be fair to Phonogram, which reads like a collaboration between Tom Tomorrow and some weirdo on Usenet whose main influences are Transmetropolitan and NME, c. 1995. Okay, I've said enough.
-Hey, speaking of tepid pseudo-alternative comics, Chris Butcher has some thoughts on the ongoing Vertigo discussion (and I can't tell if he's referring to "Village Green Preservation Society" in the title of his post). The comments are particularly interesting: Abhay Khosla shows up to ask a question similar to the one which immediately sprang to my mind. Butcher claims that, when you look at sales in terms of dollars rather than units sold, the OGN Sentences did as well as Vertigo's selling-too-well-to-be-canceled titles, such as DMZ and 100 Bullets. Khosla suggests that perhaps we should consider that Sentences, had it been serialized, would have been 5-6 issues, which translates into pretty poor per issue sales. Butcher restates that he's talking about dollar figures, but I still think there's a bit of an error in his way of thinking.
Sentences sold 1700 copies at $20 a pop, which comes out to $34,000 net. Based on Khosla's figures, I think it's safe to assume that it would have been about 6 issues in serialized form. For the sake of this exercise, let's assume that Sentences would have ended up averaging about 4000 copies sold per issue--not all that unreasonable given the typical disparity between GN sales and individual issue sales at Vertigo. That's 24,000 total copies. At $3 per issue, that's $72,000 in total sales--more than twice what Sentences did as an OGN. You could make the counter-argument that since the OGN only sold 1700 copies, that should be the average we work with for single issue sales. I think that's kind of nuts--1700 is probably closer to the baseline for what the final issue or two of the series would have sold, with 1st issue sales more in the 8000 range (with major dropoffs after, of course). But even if we work with 1700 as the average sales per issue, we come up with $30,600. Not that far off from the actual OGN figures.
Now there are all kinds of other variables to consider, like the cost of production per issue vs. the cost for an OGN, the trouble in racking a bunch of single issues vs. racking an OGN, the discount on OGNs vs. the discount on single issues, etc. I was actually going to try to make this kind of comparison in one of my recent Vertigo-centric posts, but my ignorance of Diamond/DC's discount rates persuaded me to avoid dollar sales and stick to unit sales. I actually tried to do this with The Other Side, had calculated the total dollar sales for single issues and compared it to the upper level of Vertigo's OGN sales, and found that the serialized version was a far, far safer bet for Vertigo. But then I deleted all that, and I don't really want to add it all up again, so you can trust me, run the numbers yourself, or just ignore this point. Oh, okay, here it is again: total unit sales for issues 1-5 was 45,628, adding up to $136,884. Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall (Vertigo's best selling OGN) sold 15,289 copies at $20 for a total of $305,780. That's over twice what The Other Side did in pamphlet form, but who in the hell thinks that The Other Side would have even approached those numbers? 5000 sold is a much more reasonable expectation, and at $100,000 that would still be less than aggregate single issue sales. Especially if you add in The Other Side's admittedly modest GN sales, worth another $30,000 (for a grand total around $170,000--and that's net, not gross). All things considered, it seems like an obvious choice to me. In fact, I wonder why Vertigo bothers with OGNs at all.
This is where Butcher's dialogue with Stuart Moore becomes relevant. Moore pops in to remind everyone that Vertigo's page rates limit what the imprint can do (a point he made at this very blog re: the potential for anthologies). Butcher suggests that Vertigo might want to abandon up front page rates, presumably in favor of the independent model of giving creators a percentage of the total sales (which, if you add in an advance, is also the mainstream publishing model). I have no idea how feasible this recommendation is; I suspect it's more complicated than Butcher is suggesting. I can't imagine that Vertigo's freelancers would be happy about it, especially with sales going the way they are. I mean, if one really does want to see more comics creators making a living wage, then one should probably support Vertigo's current model.
I, however, might be interested in seeing Vertigo move more towards the model Butcher suggested, just because I think it might increase the odds of Vertigo actually publishing something I want to read. Vertigo has had success with four basic types of comics. Everyone knows about the magical/mythological stuff (Sandman, Fables), and everyone also knows about the adaptations of existing DC properties (Doom Patrol, Shade the Changing Man). I would add two more categories: shonen and philosophy. I'm using "shonen" as a synecdoche for quest-oriented manga where a single male protagonist works his way towards some ultimate goal with the help of his friends. This more or less describes Preacher and Y the Last Man, right? As for philosophy, I'm talking about comics where the narrative serves to inculcate the writer's world view--stuff like Invisibles, Transmetropolitan, or Testament.*
I don't much care for the philosophy category, but I'm open to all the others--in theory. Still, I'd much rather see some comics which don't easily fall into any of these categories. Hell, what I'd really like to see are a few projects driven by art as much as writing. Or projects in which the art is not some derivation of British/American adventure comic art. In other words, less Mike Carey/Jim Fern, more Jhonen Vasquez. Not that I especially like Vasquez' comics**, but surely Vertigo can make money selling things he writes and draws, right? Or maybe even Ted Rall or Lloyd Dangle. Rick Veitch is a step in the right direction, but it seems like Vertigo could have found someone with a more obvious constituency (like teenage goths or angry liberals).
Regardless, I don't think Vertigo is prepared to go into the OGN business anytime soon, simply because it doesn't make any sense for them to do so financially. Furthermore, lost in this discussion (but present in Hibbs' original post) is the idea of serialization providing a sort of advertising, a way to keep up the buzz about a book so that people don't forget about it. You could say that's a failure of marketing, and that it's a resolvable problem, but I think we're still a few years from DC/Vertigo cracking that nut (which they will surely do by smashing it with a large computer). In the meantime, Vertigo's upcoming slate of revamped DC properties suggest that the imprint is going through a conservative period. I start to wonder if the Vertigo label is really more of a hindrance than people realize (I actually expected the American Splendor miniseries to be a compromised version, for no real, legitimate reason), but that's really just idle speculation. Maybe the answer is to give Neil Gaiman several large bags of money so he can "show run" a weekly series exploring the Vertigo universe?
*Yes, Vertigo has published many other titles which don't fit into these categories, but these are the most successful archetypes in the Vertigo library.
**I did like Invader Zim.
-Trader Joe's Reviews:
Soy and Flax Clusters cereal: I bought this by accident; my wife and I usually refer to this kind of cereal as "hemp flakes" (possibly because my father seems to like the stuff). The box proudly informs the consumer of its high protein and fiber content. As a vegetarian, I'm always worried that I don't get enough of the former, but I'm exceedingly confident that I get plenty of the latter. There's also Omega 3 acids or whatever, but I'll worry about that once I start to have visible gray hair. (Actually, maybe that's not such a great idea--my hemp flakes-loving father is about to turn 60, and he has fewer gray hairs than Dr. Strange.)
Anyway, this cereal was mildly sweet and nutty, just as the box promised. It was also crunchy. Severely crunchy. Kind of traversing the border from "crunchy" to "hard," truth be told. The flakes are coated in flax seeds, which are alarmingly dark in color. There are also a lot of soy nuts just kind of hanging out in this cereal, not attached to any flake or cluster. I wouldn't say that eating it was a challenge, but I was more actively aware of the process of eating than I might normally be. And I'm a little worried about how well those additional six grams of fiber are going to play with the large quantity of beans and corn meal still lingering in my system. I did kind of feel like all the liquid had been removed from my body after eating a bowl of this stuff, but that might have more to do with (a) the cup of coffee I drank with it, and (b) the fact that it's about 85 degrees in here, owing to the comically outdated heating system in my building. I do know this--the next time I'm shopping for cereal at Trader Joe's, I'm going to make sure that I actually read the boxes rather than rely on my memory of the box's color scheme.
UPDATE: I think that the hemp flakes might not get along with other food. I had quite the stomach ache last night after a pretty typical lunch (see below). Will update after more data is acquired.
UPDATE TWO: I had another bowl this morning, and it seems to be behaving itself in my stomach. I haven't eaten lunch yet, though.
Balsamic Vinegar: This is supposedly nicer than the cheap stuff, which everyone says is basically grape juice. Mixed it with olive oil and tried it brushed on a grilled cheese sandwich, but couldn't tell the difference. Tried dipping my finger in it and tasting it, and it is does have a much mellower taste than the cheap stuff. Also a bit more syrupy. Don't know if that's worth paying quadruple the cost of the cheap stuff. I've never bought a bottle of the legitimately good stuff (that's money that could go towards comics), but I'm pretty sure no one's going to confuse this for that. I'll be making a salad dressing out of it soon, so I'll update if anything notable comes to light.