Thursday, November 22, 2007

Love & Rockets goes annual
Is this the end of the comic as we know it?

Earlier this week there was the news from Fantagraphics Books that Love & Rockets, the long running series from The Hernandez Brothers was no longer going to be released in comic format and instead would be released as a series of original graphic novels on an annual basis.

Further details here, here, here, here, here and here. You get the idea of how this is an important story? Or maybe that comics blogging is a very insular thing.

Picking points out of the press release:

After 25 years of being published in a traditional saddle-stitched magazine format released three or more times a year -- first in the magazine-sized VOLUME I (50 issues, 1982-1996) and then in the comic book sized VOLUME II (20 issues, 2000-2007) - the award-winning LOVE AND ROCKETS comic book series will go on hiatus effective immediately and return next summer in its third incarnation, as a series of all-original, graphic novel-length releases.

"This new format will allow the Bros. to present longer stories without having to chop them down into bite-size pieces," said Fantagraphics publisher Gary Groth. "In today's graphic novel-oriented world, readers (and cartoonists) are increasingly impatient with this sort of serialization, especially in the case of L&R where, because of the split nature of the book, each artist has only 15 pages."

Aside from the creative advantages of the new format, 2007's highly successful repackaging of Love and Rockets Volume I into seven smaller, thicker books (the seventh, Amor Y Cohetes, will be released in June 2008) revealed a large untapped audience for Love and Rockets that was not being reached with the comic books, which were exclusively available in the direct sales market. "We wanted to be able to reach those readers who aren't near a comics shop with, specifically, the new LR material," says Fantagraphics sales director Greg Zura -- "and we wanted it to be available through and similar on-line book-selling services. Moving to a 'spine' format gives us this option."

"We discovered with The ACME Novelty Library that opening up the periodical to the book trade doesn't inhibit sales in the direct market," said Fantagraphics Director of Publicity Eric Reynolds. "If anything, it breaks the audience wide open."

This is important in many, many ways. It could easily be one of those defining moments in the Comic Business that we will look back on and identify as a discreet point in time where the entire industry changed.

Obviously, over the last decade or so we've seen the rise and rise of the Graphic Novel until it's attained the position it's in now, certainly on a par with the comic pamphlet, if not pulling slightly ahead in certain genres. Obviously, as Fantagraphics have noted, the Graphic Novel model works far better for things like Love & Rockets and Acme Novelty Library. But it's also perfect for authors like Adrian Tomine, Seth, Marjane Satrapi, Joe Sacco, Daniel Clowes et al, suiting the literary aspects of their work far more than a floppy pamphlet and giving them a foothold on the shelves of Borders and Waterstones.
But it's also the medium of choice for lines such as Vertigo and Wildstorm from DC. Indeed, over the years at Nostalgia it was with these lines that we really saw the impact of the Graphic Novel. As more and more comics were collected, more and more customers started to wait for the trade, confident that it would be out six months after the series finished. It was DC that first started regularly collecting their Vertigo line and it's been a phenomenal success for them. In fact, given that most Vertigo comics barely sell enough to break even, it may have been too successful. Vertigo is coming to that point where it has to make a decision; comics or graphic novels? Because doing what they do now, relying on sales of the comic series to fund the collection just isn't going to be viable in the very near future.

Things like this only reinforce what I've been saying for a long time. There will come a day when comics are primarily published in graphic novel format and the floppies that have dominated the medium previously will die out.
I believe that what we've seen with manga comics will eventually come to pass with most comics. I can still remember when Viz and Dark Horse started publishing manga in 32 page comics. But now, everyone puts them out as Tokyopop style albums. It just makes more sense.

Likewise, for irregularly published titles, such as Love and Rockets, Acme Novelty Library et al, the change to publishing exclusively to graphic novels makes absolute sense. Invariably the customers for these comics aren't coming into the store every new comic day to see what's arrived. It used to be a nightmare trying to keep up with the publishing schedules of titles like these when they were published as comics only. With the rise of the Graphic Novel we've seen most of these customers switch their allegiances to picking up the book rather than the comic. Again, it just makes more sense; aesthetically, economically and practically.

As we've found in Nostalgia & Comics more and more customers are preferring to get their comics as collections or graphic novels. It's simply become the best way to read the material. I can really see a time when every comic company drops comics completely in favour of the original graphic novel. It's possible that Marvel and DC will hold out for longer than the rest, but with their policy of collecting everything means that the Vertigo problem, where too many readers are not buying the comics because they want to wait for the collection will probably mean that only the very highest profile, or best selling titles will be around in floppy form.

It's a huge change. It may not be popular amongst a lot of the old guard in comics. But it is going to happen. Indeed, with Love and Rockets leading the way. I think it's happening right now.

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