Monday, 22 June 2015

Singing About Black Canary #1

Or how advertisements water down the quality in Black Canary #1
by Brenden Fletcher, Annie Wu, Lee Loughridge, and Steve Wands; DC Comics

Black Canary #1, the actual storytelling part of it, is pretty great. The premise of "what if Black Canary was in a rock and roll band" is that brilliant idea that instantly translates into a fun story. And given a creative team that includes Brenden Fletcher, an integral member of DC's recent push to make comics I'm actually interested in, and an art team of wizards Annie Wu and Lee Loughridge, Black Canary #1 is a stylish and polished reading experience that is, in some empirical way, totally rad. Black Canary #1 is a comic I really enjoyed.

.... or at least would have if not for the extremely tacky ads in the comic.

I want to talk about Capitalism for a second. I feel like in a small scale, individual transaction kind of way, Capitalism works pretty okay: it provides a way to link resources and labour to exchangeable value to efficiently swap stuff. It also, in this small scale way, rewards people who work harder or provide some sort of better product. I also feel with very large companies Capitalism essentially breaks down; that sufficiently large publicly traded corporations lose that darwinistic incentive to do better and instead become schemes to screw every last dollar out of business models to increase profits and drive share prices. And this breeds a certain kind of short sighted money-now bullshit that makes me crazy.

Subway is my go to example to try and articulate how Hyper-Capitalism fails. Once upon a time there was a sandwich shop that made fast food submarine sandwiches to order. This was apparently a good idea and the business grew and opened more locations. And then it grew some more. Eventually there was a Subway everywhere there could be a Subway. (My personal slice of Metro Vancouver, New Westminster, has a population of 66 thousand and has 8 Subways, which is just stupid.) Subway also resorted to increasingly aggressive advertising to the point where if you consume any amount of broadcasted media its ads are inescapable. Which has led to a reality where everyone is being constantly reminded about the Subway restaurants that are all around them. This, in my opinion is where Capitalism failed: when everyone knows Subway is an option and everyone has access to several Subways, profits can only be grown by ruthlessly cutting costs in the form of using cheaper ingredients and making worse sandwiches. Which has made Subway into a nigh ubiquitous purveyor of flavourless, grey Victory-subs. Thanks Capitalism.

(And yes, Subway subs are also evidence that we are living in a dystopian future.)

My point here is that descisions that make bizness sense in a Hyper-Capitlist environment can have a side effect of making a shittier product.

Which brings me the crux of my problem with Black Canary #1, and really all of the post-whatever-that-event-was DC reboot , is this god damn story page advertisement. Here I am throughly enjoying a fun new comic by a great new creative team that I paid good money for and there is a fucking advertisement on story pages!? HEY STOP READING THIS COMIC AND INSTEAD PAY ATTENTION TO TWIX!!! HEY ASSHOLE! TWIX!!! It's distracting and it really takes me out of the experience of reading this great comic.

And, look, a lot of Atoll Comics is about trying to uncover the mechanisms that creators use to make the magic of comics work. And a key club in the creators sports metaphor is the ability to manage how a reader flows through a page using layout and eye guiding and carriage returns and page turns. Chopping a page in half to tell us ABOUT TWIX! YOU STUPID JERK! EAT A TWIX!!! severely restricts the amount of storytelling space creators have to work with and the amount of control they have over how readers navigate their story. I mean, Christ, they also have to contend with stupid ASSHOLE! TWIX! ASSHOLE! ads trying to deliberately distract readers from the artwork entirely. It's really, really, really fucking tacky and actually damages how comics work. 

The thing is this stunt is only a small portion of a larger problem. Black Canary #1 has 22 pages of value added content if we include the comic, the cover, and the one page of back matter (which I feel is charitable). This comic also includes 8 pages worth of paid advertisements and 6 pages of internal advertisements for other DC comics. That means that this comic which I paid $3.99 CAD has 14 pages of advertisement for 22 pages of content. That means 40% of this comic is obnoxious garbage. 

For $3.99 CAD, I do not understand why there are so many ads in this comic. Now, I understand that DC Comics is a bizness that has to turn a profit on comics, but I don't see how the majority of the ads in this comic are actually making a significant amount of money. Like, seriously, how much cash does MARS ATTACKS: The Dice Game actually have in its advertising budget? Is their ad revenue really enough to warrant making a shittier comic? And all of these DC house ads, they cost money to print, but in a world of direct market comics stores and *the internet*, does printing 6 ads in a comic really make sense? And why put DC house ads between story pages where they make the comic shittier instead of just grouping them in the backmatter? (Also, "DCYou", seriously DC? That's just pathetic.) Every ad in a comic makes the reading experience worse, and there are *A LOT* of ads in Black Canary #1.

A lot of prognosticating has been done about the constantly increasing cover prices of comics and why it's a problem.  What is maybe getting lost in this discussion is that we are being asked to pay a premium price for our comics without getting a premium product. For $3.99 CAD for 20 pages of story I expect to not deal with distracting advertisements. And in a context where other comics publishers, particularly Image, take pains of curate a premium reading experience in their comics, I find myself wondering more and more, why do I even bother with DC Comics? As much as I might like their characters and some of their creators, it gets really hard to justify buying a comic with a fucking twix ad on a story page when I can read a comic from a publisher that is more interested in making good comics than maximizing profits from a quick buck.

So I guess what I am saying here is that Black Canary #1 is a great comic by talented creators that promises to be an ongoing fun read that is ruthlessly watered down by obnoxious advertising.

I'm also saying that if this ad blitz represents where DC comics is going they will soon find themselves publishing expensive, grey Victory-comics that I won't be reading.

Previously in I hate comics ads:
Captain Marvel #15: cathartic perfection marred by an ad.
Howard The Duck #1: ad placement ruins a punchline.

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