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Soundtrack: The Fastbacks — Win, Lose, or Both

Daves in Toyland

Dirk Deppey thinks I missed the point of his attack on comic book shops and their clients for refusing to embrace “genre diverity”.

I’m sorry, but I still think I hit the nail right on the head with that one. For starters though Dirk, please understand that I don’t for a moment regard you as a corporate shill for Fantagraphics, or anything so base as that. I take it for granted that you’re writing from the heart on Journalista!, and I enjoy reading the column immensely… In fact–I think that, in the case of this war on the purveyors of super-hero comics, you’ve let your feelings run roughshod over your (usually dependable) rational faculties. What else are we to make of this?

This is the market you built, and it caters to your whims as best it can. If it’s a closed network to anything but superhero comics, it’s because this is what you desire. That publishers of other kinds of comics are learning to build new markets elsewhere is irrelevant. That a new generation of comics readers is growing up under the impression that comics are read right-to-left — and purchased in bookstores, not comics shops — is irrelevant. That this state of affairs leaves the Direct Market dependent upon a fixed, aging customer base with little new blood coming in to ensure its health in the decades ahead is likewise irrelevant. The market does what you, the comics-reading fan, tell it to do. You’re responsible. If more people are to enter your world, it’ll only be because you’ve prepared the way by encouraging the sorts of comics shops in which they’d want to spend their money. In the short term, it means that if you want to read crime comics, you shouldn’t set the presence of superheroes as a precondition. If you want to read science-fiction comics, you shouldn’t set the presence of superheroes as a precondition. If you want to read Westerns, romance comics, humor comics, or any other kind of comics, you shouldn’t set the presence of superheroes as a precondition. It’s that simple. You don’t have to abandon superhero comics by any means, but you do need to be open to other kinds of comics you might like. If you don’t, fine — the marketplace will act accordingly, in exactly the way that Adam Smith described. Just don’t wonder where all the comics shops went twenty years from now. As musician George Clinton once sagely noted: “If you don’t like the effects, don’t produce the cause.”

Clearly, you understand what’s happening. You paint a very accurate portrait of the situation. But your tone is completely off man! The crux of the matter is this–what difference can it possibly make to you how out of touch the Direct Market is? What’s wrong with people buying their “alternative” comics at my bookstore? (and you must know that, in the real world, if any comics are “marginal” these days, it’s super-hero books–not Jimmy Corrigan!!–speaking of which, we sell Dave Eggers’ books by the truckload too, to precisely the same kind of hipsters that will go on insisting that Chris Ware is “alternative” long after the man becomes a millionaire!) I don’t know any of the biographical details of your life–but I have to assume that there’s something back there that forces you to cling to this idea that “comic book shops” must live on (and, more importantly, their future development must mirror your own!)

Well, that’s not how it works. When you open a store called “Heroes and Villains”, obviously you’re making a statement. You’re saying: “I love super-hero comics, and I’m going to live and die by them”. I’ll tell you one thing–our bookstore doesn’t even deal with Diamond, and in my four years of service there, no one has ever come to the info desk asking for a super-hero title. In Montreal at least, it’s common knowledge that if you want super-hero comics, you’d better go to a super-hero store. Meanwhile, you’d be hard-pressed to take more than a few steps in any direction on Sainte-Catherine street without tripping over Louis Riel.

From where I sit–I’m taking a much worse hit here than the “art-comix” brigade are. As Franklin Harris quite rightly points out, super-hero stores are adjusting to the new realities–they’re just not moving in the direction that Dirk (or I) would like. When I do get a hold of a stray “comics dollar” or two, I make a bee-line for the back-issue bins. Except–guess what?–they’re gone man! Those musty old time-machines have been displaced by the mummified plastic corpses of the characters I study. When I want an old comic these days, I have to go to a crazy hole-in-the-ground called Mars, where they sell used junk of every possible description, and they just happen to have a lot of Squadron Supremes and Gruenwald/Infantino Spider-Womans mixed in with the cheezy seventies porn mags (most of the issues are so crumpled they’re practically spherical–ridiculously, they’re still sheathed in plastic bags). On the plus side–the guy who owns the place will, upon request, regale you with visions of impending holocaust unleashed by 30-foot tall robots that will be developed by the rich to pacify the poor, but will of course turn on their creators and subjugate us all!

I miss the old comic store days of the eighties too, Dirk–and, unlike you, I actually miss them the way they were… just four white walls (perhaps one or two of them covered by giant cork-boards featuring the best silver age stuff in mylar), a big back-issue bin, and a bunch of new super-hero comics + the geeks who love them. I’m writing a novel about that kind of place, which, if all goes well, you’ll be able to buy alongside the newest stuff by Seth–at the bookstore! And–since it’s written in a “difficult”, self-devouring, anti-teleological style inspired by Hawthorne’s Blithedale Romanceno self-respecting “super-hero” store will ever carry it!

We’ll both just have to live with that fact.

Oh yes–I wanted to say more about this, but it’s awfully late–H, at The Comic Treadmill moves beyond the Generations Saga tonight–and Mag discusses his newest purchase–a Hawkman & the Atom statuette! (I rest my case)

Good night friends!

Dave

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