Thinking Out Loud About Digital Comic Codes

It’s been a long, long while since I’ve written at any length about collecting-related issues, and while I’m a firm believer in reading the comics I buy, I’m still a comic COLLECTOR at heart. Sure I won’t read comics I hate on any principle, but there have definitely been a few shameful instances in my past where I’ve bought two copies of a polybagged book so one can stay “Mint”. (And before you judge me too harshly, ask yourself what state your Superman #75 is in.)
 
Marvel’s launched an admirable new venture wherein their $3.99 titles* all contain “free” digital download codes so you can use the Marvel app or ComiXology to read the issue on your computer or mobile device. This is smart marketing on Marvel’s part: it costs virtually nothing, acts as a pretty great goodwill gesture, and gives you some lagniappe for your extra dollar (that they would have gotten anyway).
 
The problem comes in with the presentation, though. Most likely to guard against theft, the digital download code comes covered with a small sticker and lasts for about a year, depending on when you purchase that comic. Anyone who’s read the blog for more than about a week is well aware of my unwillingness to spend $4 for a “Big Two” comic, but now we’re getting to the point where these $3.99 books are making their way to discount bins and this leaves me with a dilemma: what do I do with these codes?
 
Because I AM a collector I have an (admittedly lame) problem with ripping the stickers off because then the book can no longer be considered complete. Yet the part of me who wants to get the full value for my dollar — and likes digital comics! — says it’s stupid, after a year the code will be invalidated anyway, so there’s nothing to gain by ignoring the code. We’ve seen this before with Marvel Value Stamps and Image #0 coupons, where if someone cuts a piece out of the comic it legitimately affects the condition of the book, and even though this is a tag clearly designed to be easily removed, there’s still some…modification to the book.
 
Mike Sterling brings up some good points in his Progressive Ruin blog, mainly about the headache of validating whether a comic is still “intact”. And even though I’m not trying to be the retailer’s advocate here, I can definitely see how that’s unnecessary overhead for them. But as a buyer — whether a comic shop customer or a retailer buying back issues — you should definitely have the right to know if the tag has been pulled and the code used, at least if the book is less than a year old. That gives the owner the right to make up their own mind about whether or not they want to deface their comics.
 
So what the hell are we supposed to do?
 
I’ve done way too much thinking about this (read: ANY thinking about this) and loath as I am to admit it, that sticker is a part of the published book in the same way those Image coupons were. Even though they were designed and intended to be pulled, I find it hard to still consider a book “Mint” without it. Not that it’s worth dropping a comic by a grade, I just think they should be identified as “with” or “without” the tag, in the same way Marvel had newsstand and direct market versions of their books in the 90’s. (Again, sorry retailers. I know that’s an unfair burden on you, but it’s got to be done.  Maybe it’s just safest to assume that code is gone at all times.)
 
That said, I still want my digital comic!  I’ve lost track of the link at this point, but I found a post by an astute reader who realized that if you shine a bright light through the tag and squint, you can make out the code underneath.  This allows you to redeem the code without defacing your books.  And since said code expires in a year, you keep a pristine copy of your book and still get a digital copy.  You can even resell your book and keep the digital copy (as long as you’re honest with the seller, which you will be, right?).
 
But I want to give the last word to Mr. Sterling, who’s best insight is right in his headline: “This is all assuming there’ll eventually be a back issue market for anything coming out right now.”
 *It’s worth mentioning that Dark Horse’s new Star Wars #1, even at $2.99, had a free digital download code.

A Look at Free Comic Book Day 2012

Free Comic Book Day 2012 has come and gone, and judging by the crowds of excited people I saw at every store I went to (5 over about 4 hours that morning) it was a pretty big success.  But how were the comics that were given away?  Well, I managed to come home with a pretty big stack of them, so let’s take a closer look.

  • Adventure Time/Peanuts – The classic Peanuts stories are great, the new stuff leaves me cold.  Okay, that half of the flipbook out of the way, let’s talk Adventure Time.  This is a great example of what Kaboom is doing with their AT series.  The main story follows all the style guides (and fits within the gutters of issue one), but there are also a couple short stories by indie creators where they can go off and tell whatever stories they like.  It’s a good, fun mix of a good, fun series, and an excellent representation of what you’d get in an issue of Adventure Time.

  • Archaia Presents Mouse Guard and Other Stories – Man, did Archaia raise the bar with their FCBD issue, giving out a 41-page (unless I miscounted) HARDCOVER sampler.  I can’t say every sample was good — Cursed Pirate Girl was somewhat illegible and I had to skip past it — but the Mouse Guard synopsis story (I really need to be reading that!) and Cow Boy by Nate  Cosby and Chris Eliopoulos were excellent.  Cow Boy is definitely going on my next order.  Another fun surprise: a Labyrinth story!  There’s no branding on the story itself but once I recognized Hoggle (okay, it’s not that hard), the other characters came flooding back to me. THIS is what FCBD should be about!
  • Atomic Robo/Neozoic/Bonnie Lass – Even though Archaia put out this Free Comic Book Day’s strongest issue, the Atomic Robo team of Brian Clevenger and Scott Wegener yet again put out an amazing offering this year.  Usually reserving FCBD for a Robo/Dr. Dinosaur fight, this year they teamed up!  Well, in a way.  As always it was hilarious, and as always you should be reading it year-round.  The other samples in here didn’t offer content nearly as strong.  Neozoic hopped from scene to scene (and even from person to person in the same  conversation) so much it felt like panels were missing.  Transitions definitely were. Bonnie Lass was fine, but nothing remarkable.
  • Avengers: Age of Ultron #0.1 – This is a good FCBD choice from Marvel.  High-profile (or rather more importantly, highly talented) creators, recognizable characters appearing in a movie opening the same weekend, and the first part of what will obviously be a huge storyline.  It’s well-written and well-drawn, but after going through it 3 times, I just can’t decide on it.  Is it for the new reader or us established folks?  It definitely feels like part 1 of 13.  The return of Ultron is great, but it feels unusually built up. I just have no idea about this one.  Strategically it’s a good call, but it mostly left me cold.  Maybe that’s just a reflection on my relationship with mainstream superhero comics than anything else.
  • The Censored Howard Cruise – Outside of the obvious creators Crumb, Pekar, and Sheldon I’m not terribly knowledgeable about the original Underground Comix creators, so this joint effort by Boom! (really!) and the CBLDF was a nice addition to the day.  And it really is censored for the FCBD edition, though the upcoming releases will not be.  I was trying to come up with a good way to describe Cruise’s work until Charles Brownstein put it much better than I could have in the backmatter: “Cruse’s technically accomplished line style has a wholesome quality that provides a stark contrast to his candid discussions of sexuality, drug use, and censorship.”  A great offering for the student of both comics and comix.  It’s also worth noting that Boom! has a new Roger Langridge collection coming out called “The Show Must Go On” that we’ll both need to keep our eyes peeled for.
  • Dinosaurs vs Aliens – Since we’re discussing how comics work, DvA fails completely, offering only 8 pages of actual comic book and filling up the rest with sketches, concept art, and text pieces.  It’s an interesting book, but not really enough sequential art to qualify as a comic.  Skepticism ruins the rest of the goodwill I have for this title.  Movie director comes up with painfully obvious mash-up (since those are all the rage), hires the best comic writer in the business to write a screenplay, then does a comic to provide street cred (see also: Cowboys vs Aliens).  Oh well, at least the art will be beautiful.
  • Image 20 – Image takes their shot this year with a sampler of their upcoming titles.  Going with a book full of teasers is probably a good call (although I’m obviously biased towards a full comic) but nothing I read inspired me to pick any of them up.
  • The New 52 – Despite my DC boycott I still picked this up, figuring it at least wasn’t putting any money in the Time-Warner coffers.  Another teaser book, this kicks off the backstory behind Pandora, the mystery woman who appeared in each of DC’s 52 #1 issues.  No disrespect intended to the creators involved, but a passing familiarity with Greek mythology and a play-through of God of War is probably all the Pandora stories we need.
  • Spider-Man: Season One – This whole “accessible universe” thing is getting out of hand.  A decade ago Marvel kicked off the Ultimate line with the intent of luring in new readers.  Then DC launched their Earth One line of OGN’s for bookstores and rebooted their whole damn universe.  Unwilling to be beaten at their own game, Marvel then launches THEIR line of bookstore OGN’s, doing the exact same thing every other relaunch has done since John Byrne did Spider-Man: Chapter One.  If you love modernized Spider-Man reboots this will be right up your alley, but otherwise this is pretty inessential.
  • Stuff of Legend/Finding Gossamyr – I’m always charmed by the soul and charming artwork of the Stuff of Legend books, though I don’t see it on the stands often enough to keep up with it.  (Fortunately, there’s an ad in the back for a collection of the first two volumes, which I will definitely pick up).  Finding Gossamyr was a little confusing…It looks like a young boy solves a math problem that leads to a portal to another dimension, but tI had a little trouble reading the transition between the two worlds.  The artwork was a nice cartoony style, and the story was intriguing more than mysterious for it’s own sake.  If you enjoy Narnia-type alternate world stories, this is a title to keep an eye out for.
  • Transformers: Regeneration One #80.5 – My love of comics started with the original Marvel Transformers series.  I was given a three-pack innocently enough, but suddenly it’s 30 years and thousands of issues later.  There will always be a soft, biased spot in my heart for those Robots in Disguise. Sure, their adventures were mainly used to reinforce toy lines, but by the end of the original 80-issue run we got to some truly original stories as we reached the final battle with Unicron written by Simon Furman and (mostly) drawn by Andrew Wildman.

Yes the Cybertronians were victorious, but in the aftermath were some of the grayest, bleakest stories I had ever read as the Transformers struggled to find purpose again.  Furman got to tell stories that didn’t require introducing new toys and could focus on the characters.  Wildman, who if I recall was a pretty divisive art choice at the time, was my favorite TF artist ever, able to draw alt modes and robot forms equally well and distinctly.  What really set him apart were the distinctive (and dare I say, human) faces with spittle frequently flying and battle damage showing they may be robots, but they’ve clearly been to Hell.

Together they got away with telling some truly weird stories.  Galvatron travels to kill his past-self before realizing he would cease to exist.  Megatron and Ratchet fuse into a Two-Face robot.  And then five issues after defeating the ultimate evil they were gone.

Their run based my entire opinion of what Transformers COULD be.  Even though it’s been a while since I’ve gone back to see how they hold up, make no mistake: I know full well that most of the comic series was pretty bad, not to mention some truly awful cartoon episodes.  But those issues…well they showed a lot of growth and potential for more.

Wildman and Furman have teamed up many times since that series end, even on Transformers, with Armada.  Those darker issues seem to have inspired other approaches to the characters as well, but none of them have worked for me.  The names and characterization are roughly the same, but the Armada or Energon Optimus Primes just aren’t the
same to me like the G1 Prime is, just like Alan Scott is not Hal Jordan is not Kyle Rayner.

Now here we are, 21 years after that series ended, and Furman and Wildman are back, picking up where they left off. Or rather, 21 years after they left off.  They do so fairly seamlessly.  Furman’s story could have been more linear rather than bouncing around, but we’re definitely going to get back to the original (and if I may be so bold, my) characters.  And Wildman’s art returned to exactly where I remember, without all the overly-angular jagged faces obviously inspired by the movies.  This is a very good comic, and I’m really excited to see where they take us.

(Now after having written all this, I feel like I’ve done Geoff Johns a disservice by my griping about him turning DC into what he loved most as a kid.)

  • 2000 AD – The surprise find of FCBD 2012!  I’ve never seen a 2000 AD FCBD issue before; I didn’t even know they participated.  The first pleasant surprise was the large magazine size, so it stands out from all the other offerings.  Then it gives several complete chunks of comics.  Sure, some of the stories were a part one but it’s an accurate representation of what to expect from 2000 AD.  Then the contents showcased a little bit of everything: classic sci-fi, some horror, a vintage Alan Moore story, and a superhero satire.  I’ve never read an individual issue of 2000 AD before, but after this I think I might need to add it to my pull list.
  • Valiant 2012 – Even though this was just a teaser book, it worked. I’m sufficiently piqued for the Valiant relaunch this summer.  Unfortunately, it’s still a bad free comic.  Marvel and DC put out things like this monthly; it’s a promotional item.*

* Yes, they’re all promotional items, but the point of Free Comic Book Day is, you know, a free comic book.

  • Yo Gabba Gabba – I really don’t know what to say about this one, since I am neither a small child nor a guardian of small children.  It definitely won’t appeal to anyone whose age is approaching double-digits, and there’s no hipster cred other than some nice work by Mike Allred and Evan Dorkin.  But might it get small children into appreciating comics?  Yes.  Yes it might. And that’s one to grow on.

And that was my 2012 Free Comic Book Day.  I think it was a raging success, even if not every book was.  I hope you found some great comics out there and have maybe been inspired to track down a few new things.  And only 11 months until next year’s!

The… NSFW… List

As promised this weeks list is the poll winner: Superheroes that are also entries on Urban Dictionary. Turns out there are quite a few actual entries on Urban Dictionary that are comic and superhero related. As you might expect, most of them are graphically (frequently offensively) related to sex. Soooo… I’ll post links to the safe entries here, and I’ll leave you to look up the others on your own… take offense at your own risk.

 

Trust me on this one gang; this is nothing you want to know.

Squirrel Girl

Comics

X-Men

Wonder Woman

Human Torch

Wolverine

Invisible Woman

Green Lantern

Captain America*

Optimus Prime

Cobra Commander

* This was the only non-sexual, non-comic related entry on Cap. An advanced technique of table hockey, in which a player throws his or her mallet, similar to how Captain America throws his shield, at an unprotected puck lying close to the opposing player’s goal. Opinions on the legality of this technique vary: some say the mallet crossing the halfway line is an illegal move, but others contend that while the mallet is in motion, the throwing player’s hands do not cross the line.

“Dude, you just Captain America’d that ho!”

Do not look up Doc Ock.. you will hate yourself.

The LEMUR Gift Guide

Whether you’re scrambling of last minute Christmas, Festivus, or Hanukkah gifts or trying to figure out how to spend gift money, we’ve got some really solid suggestions for that comic book enthusiast in your life.

Collections and Trades

I’m a bit of a history/ science nerd, so I’m going to start by recommending everything published by G.T. Labs. Jim Ottaviani’s graphic novels tend to gravitate toward the people and events around the Manhattan Project, but don’t let that dissuade you. He weaves a good narrative without being dry. He finds the heart in all of the people involved, often taking side trips into interesting anecdotes. As important, he typically has really solid artistic talent backing his stories: Steve Lieber, Gene Colan, Jeff Parker, Colleen Doran, Ramona Fradon, and Guy Davis to name a few. The most recent of G.T. Labs’s releases is a look at the career of that eminently entertaining physicist: Richard Feynman. These are well put together stories even if you’re not that into comics but maybe a fan of science and history.

We’re pretty big fans of Michael Kupperman here, so I was thrilled to get a copy of Mark Twain’s Autobiography (1910-2010), but also a bit concerned.  Kupperman’s writing style is uniquely suited for his cartooning, but I was worried about how it would translate to prose. I need not have worried, though, as his tight prose is as full of madcap ideas as his best cartoons.  Whether it’s working in an ad agency after World War II, shrinking down to ant size with Albert Einstein, or writing mobster porn, Twain’s adventures are guaranteed to be unlike any other book you’ve read.  While I suspect Kupperman’s work won’t mesh with everyone’s sense of humor, if you put this book in the right person’s hands it will be a revelation.

On the topic of Kupperman, Fantagraphics recently released a volume collecting several issues of Tales Designed to Thrizzle. Jesse and I have both written on the surreal humor and brilliance of this book. It’s also still pretty easy to get your hands on the Kupperman’s first collection of strips Snake ‘n Bacon’s Cartoon Cabaret.

In addition to this awesomeness, Fantagraphics has also been releasing some great collections of newspaper comic strips. Personally, I can recommend the two volumes of Mickey Mouse as well as all of the Dick Tracy. They’ve also got Bloom County, Peanuts, Little Orphan Annie, and Walt Kelley’s Pogo. These are well put together hardbacks that are designed to display the strips as they would have appeared in the papers.

It’s not new at this point, but since Watchmen makes every list and I’ve just finished rereading it, I’ve got Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics fresh on my brain.  A treatise on the logic, form, and function of cartoons, I enjoyed it when I read it in college but found even more to appreciate with a little more time and reading under my belt.  This is a great appreciation for the new or longtime reader.  Without question, this book will make you look at comics in a new light.

Mainstream-wise there isn’t much either of us would recommend, but there are a few things worth mentioning.

By the accounts of those reading DC’s New 52, Jeff Lemire’s Animal Man and Frankenstein have been standouts.  As always, we recommend seeking out creator-owned comics whenever possible, so for the DC fan in your life, try pointing them to Sweet Tooth or Essex County, his Vertigo and indie work.

Jack Kirby’s Fourth World work spanned multiple titles and a couple decades; it’s always been fairly tough to track down the whole run without spending hundreds of dollars.  DC was kind enough to put the entire run in chronological order in the omnibus format several years ago, but it has sadly fallen out of print.  The first volume was just re-released in paperback, and is perfect for tbe Kirby fan or space-epic lover in your life.

I found this next one in the bargain section of a chain bookstore. DC put out a pretty nice collection of some of their covers from the last 75 years. The collection is roughly tabloid size and the pages are perforated with the suggestion that they are suitable for framing. Outside of the covers you’d expect, there are some truly bizarre gems from the 50’s and 60’s that don’t see the light of day much. Whether you frame them or not, it’s a neat book to flip through.

DVDs

Capitalizing on the release of the Tintin movie, Shout! Factory is releasing season one of The Adventures of Tintin. This was a really good Canadian series that aired on Nickelodeon back in the mid nineties. It’s a good translation of Tintin from paper to screen.

2011 was a good year for comic book movies also. As it turns out, they’re all on Blu-Ray and DVD in time for the holidays. If you didn’t catch them in the theaters, it would definitely be worth it to at least pick up Marvel titles.

Game Tape: Vacation Edition

This week and next I’m out of town and away from my LCS. So I have no new books to review; that’s the bad news. The good news is that there is something I can review… well two somethings.

Somewhere around the time I bought an issue of Uncanny X-Men for the third time I realized it was time to create a more faithful list of my comics than the one in my head. I looked into simply using an Excel spread sheet, but that’s no good when you’re deal with the volume of data we’re talking about with a collection bordering on 8,000 books. I saw it as impractical to input all of that with the various fields I wanted (creators, plot notes, story arc/crossover info). Plus, I wanted cover images for shopping convenience. That’s when I started looking to see what was out there already. Surely some programmer has already created the databases I’d need to access and is willing to sell it to me along with a handy viewing/ report generating feature. Turns out there are several. They range from little more than spreadsheets to the ideal collecting compendium. Today I’m looking at two on the latter end of the spectrum.

In the beginning, I was managing my comic book collection using ComicBase, and I love this program. LOVE IT. Each edition has been more streamlined than the last. ComicBase offers four versions of each edition: Free (limited to entering 500 comics), Express (handles any size collection and has 5,000 cover images), Pro (28,000 images and syncs to various portable devices and smartphones), and Archive (20 gigs of images and a few other whistles and bells that the others don’t have. They range in price from fifty dollars to three hundred dollars. All versions support scanner wands for entering you collection by scanning the UPC, but the greatest thing that all of the versions share is the pdf report generating abilities. You can generate lists of what you have or want lists, they’re also customizable by the pre-programmed fields. So it’s pretty handy when you plan on doing some shopping at a convention. Finally, if you’re interested and keep up, the program calculates the value of your collection. It can also tell you the number of issues you own by publisher. There are only a few drawbacks to ComicBase.

1. It’s a big program and database that takes up a pant-load of RAM. On my slightly older machine this meant occasional crashes.

2. There is no version for Macs. Since I moved to a Mac last year, I’ve been pretty much screwed.

3. There’s a subscription involved if you want to keep up with current issues and pricing information.

The second program is one that LEMUR friend Rakmo suggested to me. Collectorz Comic Book Database is pretty decent. The Mac version came out a couple of weeks ago, and I’m using some of my vacation to fiddle with it before getting home to do the major work on my collection. So far I’m liking it. To begin with, Collectorz has several other database products; they’ve tailored a basic program to fit different collecting needs. They’ve streamlined it and it isn’t a drain on the RAM. Like ComicBase, this one supports scanner wands. In Collectorz favor over ComicBase is that this program’s interface is much more visual and in some ways easier to navigate. Searches are easier, and the information per issue is not presented in the spare spreadsheet form. These are definitely major advantages over ComicBase’s drab look. Collectorz will also synch with more smartphones. The downside is a big one though. The reporting features are severely handicapped. Basically you can have a list of what’s in your collection or what you are looking for to fill your collection. Not bad by any means, just a big drop off from ComicBase. Collectorz is also significantly more net dependent. If you’re not online, you’re cut off from much of the information (including cover images for all individual issues). Price wise, this one is a bit more attractive. The standard edition is thirty dollars while the higher end pro edition is fifty. So far I’m liking the Collectorz. We’ll see how it goes when I start entering large amounts of books.

If you’re looking for some way to keep track of you books, these are the two I can recommend. It’ll come down to how much you want to spend and which features are most important to you. If you’ve got one you can recommend, post it in the comments section.

Random Links For Your Weekend

Wow, it’s been a while since we had a good link roundup.  Don’t worry, I’ve been saving them up.