Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

The Greg Hatcher Legacy Files #61: ‘Annual Inventory 2016: The Pull List Vs. the Pile’

[We’re into 2016, as Greg posted this on 10 January, and you can find it here. As you might recall, AJS started up in 2016, so we’re coming to the end … which means we just shift to a different theme and go back to the beginning! But we still have a few columns left about Greg’s thoughts on then-current comics, so let’s go!]

Traditionally, around the first of the year I’ve looked at what’s on my pull list and decided what stays and what goes, and for the last few years, I’ve said I’m going to go trades-only and just dump the list entirely. I say this every January, but then I cave and decide to hang on a little longer.

However, this is the first year where it looks like it might actually be happening.

The reason is simple — I didn’t dump my pull list, my pull list dumped me. Almost everything on it was canceled. Some, like SHIELD, were replaced with another title that was similar; but my retailer doesn’t count ‘similar’ or ‘relaunched.’ If it gets canceled it’s off the list and I have to actually go in and get the replacement book put back on.

Here’s the thing — I haven’t really felt like doing that, most of the time. If Mark Waid’s not writing the new SHIELD, I don’t care, because that was what I was liking … it was way more fun than the show it’s spinning out of.

But shouldn’t I give the new creative team a chance? Maybe I will — when the first trade paperback comes out.

See, I have been switching to trade collections not just with new comics, but I’ve also been slowly liquidating single-issue runs of older titles I have here as well. Not too long ago I got rid of a longbox’s worth of Superman that I had replaced with deep-discounted collected editions, and yesterday the JLA went as well, for the same reason.

It’s just silly to hang on to a longbox of comics I never get into because the story’s here on the bookshelf as well. Sometimes, as with the Marvel magazines, there is ancillary material that makes it worth keeping the single issues, because that stuff tends not to make it into reprint collections — but mostly that kind of extra material went away in the 1980s.

I know some comics people get misty about old advertisements and lettercols, but I am not among them. When the original issues of Savage Sword of Conan stopped doing prose articles and reviews and so on, I lost interest in them as collectible; the Dark Horse paperbacks suit me fine.

I don’t know that it really counts as ‘decluttering’ — because, to be fair, there is just as much clutter here in the office with the piles of books as with longboxes of comics. But it’s massively more cost-effective, especially if you have the patience to wait for a book to be remaindered. If I know for certain that a title I like is getting collected in paperback or even hardcover a few months down the road, I’m much more likely to wait for it. At this point there are only five titles left on my pull list.

James Bond and Doc Savage from Dynamite are too cool to wait for, and anyway I want to support them so we see more titles like this. Both books are clever modern takes on old-school adventure heroes, as it happens, and that’s something I’m always up for.

And I have hung in there with Spider-Man 2099 and Aquaman.

Again, that’s because I want those titles to stick around a while and it’s conceivable that they might not get collected: Peter David has said flatly that Marvel has told him they look at monthly sales on single issues not just to decide if a title continues, but even before greenlighting a trade paperback edition. (Which seems insane to me, but whatever, Marvel, if you insist on clinging to a business model that’s clearly out-of-date I guess that’s your privilege.) To be honest I was thinking of dumping Aquaman when Jeff Parker left, especially since the first couple of issues after his departure were frankly underwhelming; but Cullen Bunn turned it around for me. Still not as cool as what Parker was doing, but steadily improving. Of course, I hear he’s leaving the book now so who knows?

For that matter, I wouldn’t give odds on any of those titles as being still going a year from now. Dynamite tends to advertise things as ongoing when they’re really not (Looking at you, Justice Inc.) and Warren Ellis has said he’s doing twelve issues of 007 and then he’s done. I can’t think of any plausible replacement candidates to write James Bond comics, who’d have both a similar cachet with comics fans AND a good feel for that kind of story, that would be available or interested in following him. Given Dynamite’s publication history, I think it’s much more likely for them to just cancel it and reboot it with a new #1 if someone shows up with a proposal they think is worth trying … assuming they even hang on to the license.

As for the others, Doc Savage, I’m pretty sure, is a mini-series going six or eight issues, same as the last one. Spider-Man 2099 doesn’t seem to be generating much buzz — certainly not compared to Marvel’s other Spider books, anyway, which is a damn shame because this one’s smart and fun and easy to get into. And Aquaman … well, I don’t want to invoke the Aqua-curse but really, DC has a spectacularly awful track record with the character and most of us buying the comics over the years are doing so in the forlorn hope that maybe, just MAYBE, this time will be the charm. I thought this particular incarnation was the one to break the jinx until Parker’s tenure got cut short and we started seeing missteps like Aquaman and The Others and Cullen Bunn deciding the title needed to be darker and edgier (which it absolutely does NOT, why is that DC’s default position?). I daresay that’s put a dent in Aqua-sales that might very well be too much for DC to keep it on the roster if it doesn’t get turned around pretty quick.

Really, the only monthly ongoing title on my list that I think has probably got a good shot of making it through to 2017 is Star Trek. IDW seems to have a good handle on how to make this one work, and I have to admit that the two crossover mini-series from last year — with Planet of the Apes and Green Lantern, respectively — could have been just staggeringly awful, but both turned out to be pretty good.

And I guess the John Byrne photoshop-remixing tour-de-force “New Visions” specials are now some sort of quarterly ongoing, and I’m in for those. But I just count “IDW Star Trek” as a sort of big ongoing … and it’s established enough that I’m starting to feel stupid about keeping up with the monthly issues when they get everything in paperback so promptly. There’s a good chance Star Trek‘s going to be a trades-only thing for me soon.

But the nice thing about having all my regular books canceled, combined with letting go of my OCD about being a completist (seriously, it was kind of traumatic walking away from the Bat books, but only for about ten minutes; you should try it, it’s SO liberating) is that it frees up money for other stuff. As I’ve said in this space before, once you start picking up remaindered 200 to 300-page trade paperback collections for the same three or four dollars you were spending on a new monthly 32-page book, you never go back. (Because someone always asks — my source for these deep-discount books is either Amazon or the ‘clearance’ table at various local bookstores.)

The net result of all this is I have more comics to get caught up on than ever before, only they don’t come from my usual retailer. They come in the mail. Best of all, a great many of them are collecting comics I was sort of interested in but somehow missed the first time around.

Not only that, but I usually end up with cool old back issues when we go to local shows like Jet City. Stuff that’s often found in discount bins because nobody cares about it but me. Or sometimes we get lucky with used bookstores who have no clue what they have.

So the goal is to replace whatever’s available in trade with the book edition instead of single issues, and get the longboxes pared down to just, oh, the Marvel magazines from the 1970s, the DC Giants, 100-pagers and “25 cents- Bigger and Better!” … and maybe a few indies here or there that don’t exist in any other form, like Star*Reach.

That’s been the mission statement, anyway, and it’s finally happening. The net result is that the to-read pile is a lot bigger than it was last year at this time … but we spent a lot less money on it and I’m enjoying it more. See, I still enjoy collecting comics, the hunt, the browsing, all the rest of it … but new comics cost too much and for the most part, the current offerings from Marvel and DC aren’t really doing anything for me.

On the other hand, the depressed back-issue market has suddenly made a lot of previously unaffordable comics drop to a price that’s accessible even to someone in my income bracket, AND there’s new paperback collections coming out all the time, often featuring books that I thought no one but me was interested in. (Seriously, Weirdworld AND Skull the Slayer? At this rate, the hardcover archival collection of Dagar the Invincible is right around the corner.)

Anyway, around here, the pile of older stuff — whether it’s reprint books or back issues — has been outweighing the new pull-list comics for five or six years now. I suspect 2016 is the year it takes over completely.

See you next week.

One comment

  1. Edo Bosnar

    I probably left a comment to this effect on the original post, but my comics-buying strategy has of necessity been getting as much as possible in various forms of collected editions, mostly by ordering online (because my original collection was unloaded in the mid-1980s and I now live abroad in a non-English speaking country). The single issues I now own fit in roughly the equivalent of a single short-box.

    Again, as I commented about the Spectre reprint books in a similar post a few weeks ago, I have to express regret that there are only two volumes reprinting the 1990s Martian Manhunter. Since that was a shorter series, it would have taken only two more volumes to complete it.

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