CASANOVA is a book that I wasn’t… i was very very conscious of the fact I was asking someone to spend money on me. The format minimized Image’s exposure. The one-color choice was another thing that, theoretically, appealed to both the creative side of things (the tradition it puts us in delighted both Bá and me; it was even part of my original pitch to Image and Bá and predates any artist’s involvement) and the business side of things (fewer pages and only one color saves everybody money.) Bá is new and relatively uknown; so am I; and here’s a one-color, non-superhero spy comic that refuses to allow for passive consumption.
“Not exactly a no-brainer,” to quote famous douchebags of little vision. Nothing worth doing is ever a no-brainer.
There’s been a conversation going on across the comics intellite-of-love recently, about comics format and specifically, what’s become known as “the Fell format”, after the Warren Ellis series that (re)started this whole conversation.
Last week, Ellis wrote the following:
When I devised the FELL format, I thought of it as The Dose (as long-suffering readers of Bad Signal will recall). Just a direct mainline shot of brainpower, taking longer to read and digest than the standard 32pp single for a dollar less than usual.
Now Matt’s doing CASANOVA. I believe there’s one more FELL-format book planned at Image Central right now.
I want more. I want to see more people throwing their careers away braving the new frontier of direct market idiocy re-invention.
What could be more dazzling to the expectations of the periodical comics form than someone like Corey Lewis doing a monthly FELL-format book?
Imagine the beauty of, say, Lia Fiengo or Daphne Yap discovering the format.
Derek Kirk Kim. (Though he’s probably lost to book publishing along with Hope Larson.) Wouldn’t that be something? Can you imagine actually wanting to go to a comics store once a week?
Amongst all the responses from people suggesting the “doses” they want to see, another parallel thread emerges, as creators talk about the format itself. Tom Spurgeon:
I like the format, and I like the idea of younger but established writers, artists and cartoonists working a monthly format because sustained output and a constant cycle of feedback is a way many cartoonists have traditionally improved.
The established part is important because if they’re already established, there’s less of a chance they would suck. It would be really easy for this format to get tagged as an avenue for tossed-off crud if the second generation of books were not ambitious and good. It’s a tough thing to balance — there’s a lot of Ignatz books that format will be better off never allowing to happen, too.
Are you guys convinced that retailers are supporting the existing books more because of than despite of the price point, or does that matter?
The retailers who talk to me say they like and support the format.
The retailers who talk behind my back or who don’t think what they say gets back to me hate and despise the format for being too cheap/stealing from them.
I think it balances out. The deciding factor is that people like the format. So all the above doesn’t really matter, unless your local retailer is so crazed that he refuses to order things that people ask for.
Add your own joke.
Another thing I think of when I think of the revival of the periodical is that for some customers there’s a certain saturation point necessary to make that recurring trip to the comics shop possible, and that this traditionally involves multiple low cost-point items.
They don’t all even have to be monthly, as long as there’s enough to justify the frequency of one’s shopping trip. Anecdotally, it’s a big reason why my comics-reading friends went to a comic book shop in 1991 and didn’t go in 2001. It’s also why the comics working the periodical market have to be within the same ballpark quality-wise to have an impact.
I’m not convinced that done-in-one is as important as people might think.
If something is good enough to intrigue and isn’t an incomprehensible mess by way of unfrotunate presentation or, worse, because everything but the accretion of soap opera-style detail has been boiled away by years of something overstaying its welcome, then I think people can handle it.
I remember being more intrigued by For The Love of Carmen and Death of Speedy than I was by Robert Crumb’s biographies of bluesmen in Weirdo, and I use Crumb so as not to load my choices. Shit, I was like Captain Blues at that age. I could belch entire Little Walter songs. Sometimes I would yell out Maceo! for no reason. Although that’s not really blues.
Anyway, I know that’s probably not what you’re talking about, I just get a little nervous when people start speaking about format as the key for getting something over. Casanova is good because it’s good. Come to think of it, I’m not sure I understand fucking Casanova even when I read all the issues in a row and keep a flow chart and call the 1-900 number. Done in one — more like huh in one.
My experience with done-in-one is that nobody really gives a shit. What people really care about, whether they admit it or not, is the content (whether that be the story, the character, the theme, whatever) and formulae and formats don’t really mean a thing to them, past perhaps an initial novelty. To start declaring that all stories should be done-in-one because some done-in-one stories sold is kind of like DC deciding that it was the 48 pg slick squarebound format (AKA the “prestige format”) that sold DARK KNIGHT RETURNS. Any format filled with a lot of crappy stories quickly becomes a format no one’s willing to buy.
I don’t think done-in-one is vital to the format, no. Though it does mean you have to hit the monthly mark…
While I greatly admire the pioneering steps taken for the FELL “slimline” format, I think the actual content is what will determine if it latches onto and becomes a broader format. Sort of like the CD “singles” which fell out of use, but then re-emerged with the advent of single song downloads.
Also, I think in terms of format there’s room for further pushing of the boundaries. Have you read Joe Infurnari’s Mandala? It’s a great exercise in making a book more than the pages it’s in with layered reading. Also, I was waiting for someone to come along with a FELL-style comic that made the backmatter /endcap text pieces into something more substantive and part of the story than just “extras”. Maybe not the retro dossiers of comics of lore, but maybe wiki-esque entries, maps and anything that could be put down on the printed page… I think the induction of non-comics content as an essential part of the comic might take some effort with the Wednesdays crowd, but in the general public it should be taken to fairly easy.
The conversation splinters at this point, with Steven Grant writing at Comic Book Resources about his take on the subject:
What’s really going on with the format, in both books, is a rethinking of what goes into a comic, in order to best take advantage of the format. Which is where most creators fall down when taking on a new format; they don’t rethink so much as try to squeeze the same old stuff they’ve always done into a new package, and publishers, who are almost always happy with the same old stuff as long as it’s a little dressed up in new duds, don’t have any problem with that.
But that’s exactly what kills formats. We’re now at a very critical moment; it’s time everyone in the business, or wanting to be in the business, began rethinking their comics. Format is not the excuse for it. Format comes after, but format possibilities are also wide open now, and where format shifts new content options become possible as well.
…and Tom Spurgeon writing about his take on the subject and Grant’s take:
Both Grant’s mini-essay and the discussion to which it links prove pretty wonky. The discussion part also wanders into some odd areas, mostly I think because it’s hard for a creator-driven discussion of industry reform to imagine reform in which everyone participating may not have the chops to take a part. But they do provide the opportunity to note a new format, particularly one that comes on the serial pamphlet (comic book, comics magazine) side of things as opposed to the book (trade paperback collection, original graphic novel) end of the medium. It may be that the specific strengths of the Fell format — low price point, attention to stand-alone narratives, etc. — are less important than the fact that more attention is being paid to getting more non-mainstream work published in a recurring, more manageable fashion.
The quote at the top of this post comes from Matt Fraction writing about what’s behind his decision to write in the Fell format/Dose for his Casanova series, something that is well worth a read. Ellis, meanwhile, starts another thread to sum up what everyone’s been talking about, and comes to a surprisingly positive conclusion:
[T]he direct market, for all its flaws, stupidity and pains in the arse, does make it relatively easy to put art into a marketplace. Easier than getting into Borders or whatever. Which is not a point that should be lost on us.
And for all the unmitigated crap that does litter the DM stores, there does feel like there’s a little bit of a resurgence happening in what you might call the “slipstream” field (an old term ganked from, I think, Bruce Sterling): the numinous space where genre rubs against literary mainstream.
Point being: we could get to a point in the near future where enough interesting work, across several different formats, is being produced that it’d actually be worth hitting a comics shop or an online store on a regular basis once more. You could even define that as being despite the direct market’s best efforts to keep people out. Funny, that.
I like that we finally seem to have reached a point where we can consider several different formats at the same time. I also hope we’re at a point now where people feel free to fiddle around and create new formats that best fit the stories they want to tell.