By Christian Beranek
Let’s hop into a time machine, my trusted readers. Let’s head back to 1980. It was time of change — a time of destiny. It was the year that the last great Star Wars movie was released.
1980: I was 5 going on 6.
I was living in Germany and had just learned how to ride a bicycle. Motor skills and reflexes were good; coordination was bad. I rode my bike to the PX shop on base, where they sold all sorts of sundry things, including comic books. I saw a Star Wars comic on the rack. Empire Strikes Back was coming out soon and I couldn’t wait. “Who was this Boba Fett guy I saw in that weird Christmas special?” Maybe this comic had some answers.
It didn’t, but then it didn’t matter. There was a story inside that was actually related to what the cover said it was about. I felt deeply satisfied, as if I had just had a bunch of Velveeta slices and a glass of milk with cookies — that was the ultimate kid snack back then. The combination was probably poisonous, but back then we had heightened immune systems, because, unlike kids now, we were allowed to play outside and get dirty.
We need dirt, everyone. It’s important. You should pick up something disgusting from time to time. It’s good for you.
So, what was cool about most comics back then was the fact you could pick up an issue and read a self contained story. There weren’t many collected editions in 1980. All that mattered was hooking a reader on a single story. This meant there had to be a jumping on point. It didn’t matter if it was issue 1 or issue 500: You immediately knew what the hell was going on.
These days the philosophy of many companies is to “pad” six issue arcs of a series so they can collect them into a trade edition. That’s where the real money is made, anyway, after costs are recouped on sales from the singles. Once printing is recovered on the trade editions they enter that strange and mythical land known as “pure profit.”
I understand the business model behind the story arc strategy: it’s basically a string of one mini-series after another under the guise of a continuing series. There is a downside to this, however: You don’t get the same experiences many of us had when we first got into comics.
Plus, in addition to the PX, I got my comics off a newsstand back in 1980. Now all we really have is the direct market. 5 going on 6 CB would have asked back in 1980: “What is the direct market?” And more importantly: “There are shops that sell just comics? I need my Star Wars comics, dammit!”
Flash forward 6 years. I was 11 going on 12. I went into Places, our local (and only) grocery store. On the newsstand there was an issue of Saga of the Swamp Thing. Arcane was messing with Abby. He did that a lot back then. Well, I asked the store owner if she could order more copies of this amazing comic. She looked into it and it wasn’t possible. I asked “Where can I find them? They have to exist!” She suggested that maybe there were stores in Omaha that sold them.
My first trip to a comic shop was to a dungy little placed called The Dragon’s Lair in Omaha, Nebraska. I had discovered it by combing through the phone book looking for one of these elusive comic shops I had heard about — they would have my coveted Swamp Thing issues, I just knew it!
I worked out the deal with my mother, who agreed to drive me there. I went in solo, making her wait in the car. Inside, the place appeared to have dirt floors — remember, dirt is important to our health! It was dusty and dank. A smelly fat guy manned the counter. Think issues of Omaha, The Cat Dancer were displayed behind him.
I loaded up on a few Swamp Thing back issues. The owner then pointed to the shelf. “You should check that out.” It was there that I first saw Watchmen. The series was up to issue 4 already. I picked all 4 up and walked to the counter. The guy behind the counter looked at me funny.
As time went on I noticed less and less comics on racks at newsstands, grocery stores, etc… The coveted shelf space once occupied by comics went to other products. But that was ok, right, we now had the direct market.
But what would 5 going on 6 say to 11 going on 12? “I just want my comics. Why can’t I get them anywhere I want?”
To which present CB would reply: “You can, on the internet.”
11 going on 12 would give me a cold stare. Point blank he say: “But it ain’t the same. I want to be able to pick a book off a shelf and flip through it. I want that tactile feel.”
“Where did you learn that word?”
“Think I read it in an issue of Swamp Thing. Look, if you can only view it on the internet it’s not the same as flipping through it, feeling those pages fold and crease.”
“Oh yeah, I remember that issue.”
“Makes sense, you are me.”
“Look young me CB, there’s always going to be printed comic books in some form or another. And one day… yeah, there’s going to be some kind of co-op. Everyone works together — it sounds pretty awesome.
“Until then, enjoy your comics. The 80s was a golden era you — we’ll fondly remember. But there are great comics still yet to come. And I believe, as should you because you are me, that the best days are ahead of us. There are new voices out there that have yet to sing via word balloons… lines yet to be drawn. And the digital age is part of it. It’s a new gateway, a new medium, an equalizer if you will.”
“I just want to read a new Alan Moore Swamp Thing, dude.”
“So do I, myself, so do I.”
News bytes from CB:
New website! http://www.christianberanek.com
Dracula vs. King Arthur digital downloads on sale for .99 cents each: http://www.eagleonemedia.com/comicdownloadstore_IndyPub_LeadPipe.php
Christian Beranek co-founded and runs Disney’s Kingdom Comics with Ahmet Zappa. CB has a first look film/tv deal with Disney/ABC. He has several projects in development around town including Dracula vs. King Arthur, based on the graphic novel he co-created. He is currently working on his first novel and an album. CB is never late for dinner and invites you to add him on twitter: http://www.twitter.com/beranek