Support Shawn's writng with a donation

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Ms. Tree Paperback-A Comic Product Ahead of its Time

Exactly how I got it from the seller.
Holds up pretty well for a 25-years!
I’m always talking about how the comic book industry needs to embrace new products to allow new readers to access the storytelling medium.
Well, I found an example of the kind of comic product I think would be the future of the industry.

Unfortunately it was published in 1988.

But I still think it’s a product ahead of its time.

When I was searching for old Ms.Tree Back issues, I found an interesting little edition of Ms. Tree reprints. It’s a pocket-sized paperback edition (Roughly 4.5 x 6.5).Originally published by PaperJacks it features Ms. Tree issues #16 to #23 which translates to about three storylines of the series.

The storytelling features some rock solid writing by Max Alan Collins and crisp art by Terry Beatty. The pictures and words come together to tell a great story. Michael Tree has one of the strongest voices for a heroine in the comic genre, and this volume introduced new readers to her and her stories easily.

Actual pages from the Ms. Tree Paperback. 
The book is about 250 pages and in addition to the comics reprinted in black and White features an introduction of the series and a character list by writer Max Alan Collins. The featurette in the beginning giving readers an overview of the Ms. Tree series and detailing all the major characters is a great way to allow new readers an opportunity to access a series and get into comics.

Looking at this paperback, it was a great product that would have fit well on a rack at a big box retailer like Wal-Mart, or Target today. Or drugstores such as a Rite Aid and supermarkets on the magazine racks. The kinds of places casual readers walk through at checkout. The kinds of places younger buyers like tweens and teens discover new products like comics.

More pages. This series is action packed! 
This paperback could have also been sold at bookstores like Barnes & Noble and Amazon today. It’s a perfect size to fit in with other smaller paperbacks like the manga volumes there at retail.

Yeah it was a bunch of reprints. But it was a small volume at such a low price it was a affordable to younger buyers and new customers looking to try comics out. The kinds of customers that the comic book industry desperately needs.

But unfortunately, it was ahead of its time. At the time this Ms. Tree volume was published, the comic book industry and the comic book was at the peak of its popularity. Comics back in 1988 were available at every newsstand, supermarket, drugstore and mom and pop grocery across the country.

But I feel it’s time to reintroduce this type of comic format to American audiences. With the industry in crisis and desperate for new readers, it’s time to give new readers comics in a format that is affordable and accessible to them.

The Ms. Tree Paperback I bought fits all the criteria I propose for a the new comic format: Durable, (the book I bought is 25 years old and still almost read like it was brand new) and  had a longer shelf life than 32-page monthly magazines. If a book like this could look this good in someone's personal collection think about how it could hold up in a harsh place like retail where books are tossed around!

And pocket paperbacks and digest sizes comics appeal to big box, and bookstores. They’re the kinds of products that can be displayed at bookstores spine or cover forward, or displayed at magazine racks at  the front-end of supermarkets where younger customers like tweens and teens can find them and buy them on impulse.

Foreign audiences have been buying their comics in compact formats like this for years. In South America and Mexico, comics have been sold in digest size for close to two decades. These cheap novellas usually cost about a dollar and a quarter here in the state A little less if you can find them at a newsstand or bodega in a Latino neighborhood.

And Japanese audiences have been buying comics in formats like this for years as well. Most Manga volumes come in a size a little bigger than the Ms. Tree paperback (about 5x8). Titles are in a variety of genres from superhero, to action adventure to romance.

But American audiences remain stubbornly attached to their 32-page floppies and larger Trade 7 x 10 paperbacks. Getting the lowest entertainment value per dollar out of all the comic consumers in the world.

For years publishers have tried to push digest paperbacks only to be met with resistance from readers and retailers. I think it’s time the American consumer got with the program of the rest of the world.

The comic medium in America is struggling to get new readers. It’s clear that the new customer doesn’t want to buy 32-page comics that cost $4.00 an issue.

It’s time the industry started offering younger comic readers comics in formats they want to buy at a price they can afford.

The new comic products I’m proposing would compete with Japanese Manga and South American Novellas. Products similar to the Ms. Tree Paperback from 25 years ago.

With digital printing technology making printing comics cheaper than ever, it’s an opportunity for the comic book industry to revive interest in its products with new younger readers. Printing in color at Lightning Source costs nearly nothing these days.

Content wise the industry could produce reprints of old material in large volumes, allowing new younger readers access to characters and their backstories in the color formats they were originally printed in. The industry has previously reprinted old material in Black and White in bulk volumes in the past. But printing in color may give new readers the incentive to buy these volumes they previously passed on.

And it could start publishing new comics stories in this format as well. In a digest/Manga size the American comic could actually start competing with Japanese Manga for new younger readers. On a quarterly schedule a company like Marvel, DC, or Archie could present a variety of stories in single volumes serialized volumes, or one story in a single volume at a price of $7.99 for 256 pages of content.

A higher entertainment value per dollar for new readers and younger readers. A price in line with novels from trade publishers, Imported Manga comics, and other entertainment products like DVDs and used video games. A price that makes them affordable for collecting and trading. A price that makes comics competitive with other forms of entertainment.

But again, the only thing keeping the industry from adopting these changes are its dogged determination to hold onto the 32-page format of comic books out of tradition.

What many fans don’t understand is that the business model for 32-page-comics was obsolete over a decade ago.

It’s costing more and more to print a 32-page comic every year. The price has already met the threshold at retail, and can go no further. The comic book industry has to either adapt to survive or the medium for storytelling will die in the next decade. I feel it’s time the comic book industry started exploring new product formats for its printed publications.

It’s clear that today’s younger readers aren’t going to buy their comics at a comic store or buy a 32-page format or a trade paperback. Most kids who do buy comics buy Manga or read webcomics. The industry has to start creating products that will appeal to the younger customer today before they forget what comic books are tomorrow.

No comments:

Post a Comment