Monday, 20 August 2012

Brian the King Vaughan

Or why Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples are the solution to all our comics problems.

There are, in my view, a number of things I wish were better about comic book publishing. In no particular order here are some of the things about comics that I am not excited about:

  • Comic books are really expensive by any metric of content/dollar when compared to other media.
  • Money spent on comics has a tendency of going to support massive corporations instead of comics creators and occasionally comics creators are fantastically screwed by said corporations.
  • The domination of superhero comics as a genre has resulted in a narrower range of comics being produced. There is too little variety in comics today.
  • Comics are produced overwhelmingly by men; there are disproportionately fewer female comics makers and that's kind of crazy-nuts.
  • Artists are frequently swapped in and out in comics so that a greater number of books can be published per unit time. This interferes with establishing a consistent visual tone in books and devalues the importance of artists in the creative process.

recent interview by Brian K Vaughan at the The Comics Beat about Saga has some interesting quotes that make me really very excited:
"Not to brag—maybe a little bit—but the biggest surprise is how much fucking money there is in truly owning your own work."   
"I loved working for my friends at Marvel and DC, and I was always compensated with a very generous upfront page rate, but by betting on myself (and Fiona!) and waiting for money on the back end with Saga, I’m already making way, way, WAY more than what I made on comparably selling books that I wrote for other companies.  And that’s after splitting everything 50/50 with my richly deserving co-creator."
"That cushion blesses me me with a little extra time to give each script 100%, and more importantly, it means we won’t have to use any fill-in artists.  At this stage, I can’t imagine collaborating with anyone but Fiona on this story."
"I don’t know, I guess $9.99 seemed like a pretty fair price for the introductory volume of a new series. Maybe it will cut into our revenue stream, but I’m more interested in getting our story into as many hands as possible than in wringing as much cash as we can out of folks.
Fiona and I would probably be making more money in the short term if we filled the monthly book with annoying ads, or cut the page count down to 20, or charged $3.99 instead of $2.99, but I like to think that giving people more for less buys us a lot of valuable reader loyalty in the long run." 
So by my estimation, Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples seem to be solving a bunch of my comics problems with Saga:

  • The Saga 1 trade paperback (which I want THE MOST) will cost $10 for 160 pages. That is insane value! Trades generally run ~$20 for 120 pages, so this book is more than twice the value of most books on a purely content/dollar basis. Also, unlike most high-page-count-but-low-cost projects this one has full colour pages and is made by VERY A-list creators. So not only is it a lot of content/dollar but it's a lot of top quality content/dollar. 
  • Apparently, BKV and Staples are making pretty good money off the project despite charging substantially less for their books than typical ($2.99 for 30 page monthly, $10 for trades). It's just great when I as a consumer can both save money AND get more of it into the hands of creators AND still get a great product. This is the kind of success story I can get behind.
  • Saga as a book (from what I've gleaned) is an ambitious space opera/ science fantasy epic about family which is some nice non-superhero variety in the comics. The fact that this is a very successful book without being 1) superheroes or 2) zombies makes me pretty happy.
  • Fiona Staples is an incredibly talented artist who just happens to be a woman. The more rockstar female creators in comics at this point the better.
  • The importance of Staples to the final product is fully acknowledged both in the fact the books schedule is built around her ability to make the artwork, and in that she is receiving a fair share of the windfall from it.

Hyperbolic claims about BKV and Staples saving comics aside, I think it's really exciting that a high quality, original, indpendent book by top tier creators is doing so well. It's even better when this success comes with all the things I just discussed. I can only hope that Saga continues to make a splash and the comics publishing community takes some lessons from it.

Of course, Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples are not exactly any-avergae-comics-person. Their sales numbers don't exactly reflect the reality for a lot, or even most, independent comics makers and few people have the perennial selling power, cross media clout, or raw talent that Vaughan does. So, I'm not sure the awesome reality of their publishing experience is the beating pulse of everyone. But it's encouraging and, who knows, maybe some of it'll catch on?

Regardless, I am SO excited for Saga Volume 1. Waiting is killing me. 

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