The Intermittent

Why Are You Still Here?

Thursday, December 16, 2004


You have no idea how much better I'll sleep tonight knowing that Chris Butcher is out there to protect me from myself. God bless you, good sir!

Snark aside, I actually don't have any particular reason to doubt Butcher (or Tom Spurgeon) that variant covers are bad for the industry as a whole, long term. But of course this begs the question of why publishers put them out and retailers order them, given that variants are destructive; what incentives are in place that make it rational for publishers and retailers to eat their young? The whole "because they're dumb (or Evil)" explanation seems unsatisfying. There has to be something more to this. Which is my segue into half baked, mostly uninformed speculation. Feel free to grab a donut on your way out the door.

So. Why do companies staffed by smart people do dumb things like bring back variant covers? In the case of Marvel or DC, I half suspect corporate politics might be to blame. I would imagine that the publishing arm of Marvel, especially, feels somewhat under the gun these days. Ari is clearly running the show, and he clearly sees Marvel not as a publishing house but as a licensing stable. The copyrights and trademarks making up this stable can be kept alive without month to month publishing; a toy or a pair of underwear is just as good at maintaining the intellectual property as is a monthly comic. At some point, I would expect that someone--one of the outsiders, likely--would question why Marvel is even in the publishing game. Which means that Dan Buckley and the others in Marvel's publishing wing have a real big incentive to gin up short term sales; this way they can show that their side of the business is growing, or at least not shedding readers. Sales spikes buy them time. It makes the publishing wing appear more viable. And anyway, why worry about the long term? From a corporate perspective--or rather, from the perspective of those who make decisions for the corporation--things look awfully Keynesian; hey, in the long run, we're all dead. Or retired and living in Vail. Either way, keep profits up, keep sales up, keep the publishing branch limping along until retirement. After that, it's someone elses problem.

That makes a certain amount of sense to me. Other hypothetical reasons would include milking a dying direct market for all it is worth to better fund a cut over to a bookstore model, but I'm not up enough on the economics of the situation to know if this would make sense or not.
Or, Marvel could figure that Oni and Fanta and Tokyopop are doing the hard work of growing the market, and that Marvel can piggyback on their efforts; if the market is going to grow even if Marvel does nothing, and if this will lead to more Marvel customers, maybe it makes sense to free-ride and make all the short term profit they can? Again, the economics may cut against this argument. Just thinking out loud here. In any event, I could, given time, think of some reasons why Big Comics would find it rational to go for the short term profit pump rather than looking out for the long term growth of the industry.

What makes less sense to me is why retailers are jumping on the variant bandwagon. At the end of the day, Joe Comicstore has more to lose than Time/Warner. Are store owners so beholden to the fan mentality that they like stocking variants? Is there some sort of perverse prestige in being big enough to collect 'em all? Are margins so small that most shops need the hardcore fanboy to come in and buy ten copies? I can't for the life of my imagine why a store owner would shoot himself in the foot by encouraging variants. And yet they do. Someone, please, help me out here. I mean, I know why fanboys like variants (that answer is easy, though disturbing), I can sort of see why publishers might like variants, but I can't for the life of my figure out why retailers would expose themselves to the risks that variants entail.

My Christmas wish is to be less ignorant. And some books. And a pony.

Easing back into this blogging thing via some quick linkblogging...

At Critical Mass, a more jaundiced view of Maryland's attempt to incorporate comics into the classroom.

It turns out I kinda sorta know the people promiting Otaku-con. I may go tomorrow; a Hunter Thompsen-esque story of my time amongst the cosplayers will likely not follow anytime soon.

And finally, the reason (beyond mere laziness) that I've been so slack lately: ESPN College Hoops 2K5. What does it say about me that I derive immense pleasure in building up the Dartmouth basketball team into a national powerhouse and dream about the day my little video avatar can make the jump up to coaching the Gophers? Incidentally, the news that EA Sports is now the exclusive home of video NFL football is tremendously disturbing. I've been playing video football games since, oh, Atari days; since back when I kept my own stats on a notebook. And yes, I am a total dork. The Madden series of games started out a cut above similiar offerings (leaving aside the Front Page Football series for the PC, which was an order of magnitude better than any football I'd ever seen when it came out, and which descended into a buggy morass with each subsequent release); over time, though, Madden grew terribly stagnant. Even regressed. New bells and whistles undercut gameplay. Things only turned around when Sega Sports (later bought out by ESPN) got into the video football mix. Their initial offerings featured responsive gameplay, especially in the running game; it was the first video football game where a four yard gain was the norm, but long gains where possible. It blew Madden out of the water. EA reacted, making Madden a substantially better game than it had been. It is, now, probably a better game. But this history makes me wary of it enjoying monoploy status, which it now does. Time will tell, I suppose. More comments here.

Finally, what's happened to Ken Lowery? The world needs, if not more ragefucking this holiday season, than surely someone willing to call bullshit on all of us. Perhaps the elite John Byrne hit squad got to him....

Thursday, December 02, 2004


I'm generally a big believer in letting people order their own lives; I'm in favor of much broader contract rights than I suspect are most other people. The idea of people selling their kidneys doesn't keep me up at night. The idea that I could be forced to give up my right to speak out about the undiscovered or future conduct of a party to a contract however? Yep, that's going to keep me up tonight.

This comes up via this link (via Obsidian Wings): a builder whose sales contract prohibits buyers from discussing with third parties defects found in the homes. In other words, family buys a home, finds out it was built with cardboard and modeling glue, and gets sued for telling their neighbors about the defective work because the contract under which they bought the home makes it illegal for them to talk about the problems. A gentle reminder that it's not just the government which tends to abuse power.

It's a fact of life--a sad fact, but a fact nonetheless--that large concerns are going to get, nine times out of ten, the better side of the contractual bargain. With great power comes the ability to grind down the other side. But still; this type of gag provision is simply unacceptable. And not simply on moral grounds. This is a practical issue as well.

Look. Any given consumer is going to have little ability to rewrite boilerplate contract terms. Try it next time you buy a car, or a house; ask to strike the arbitration provision, observe the smirks and the giggles of the seller. You can't change boilerplate. You're stuck with the terms the seller gives you. So how do you protect yourself against a bad deal? You do your homework. You check out the seller, check out the reputation of the goods at issue. You avoid sellers that elicit raspberries and cussing from past customers. You still wind up stuck with some pretty restrictive boilerplate, but at least you're (hopefully) stuck with boilerplate from an otherwise reliable/reasonable seller.

But if you can't investigate the seller's reputation because former costumers are prohibited from complaining? Well, we just turned your contract into a crapshoot, didn't we? And removed one incentive for sellers to, if not draft friendlier contracts, at least make better products. Like I said up above: this kind of clause is bad, bad news.

Have fun shopping!

As per usual, this post is just me talking, and is not intended to serve as legal advice or as a solicitation for legal services.

The assertion that superhero comics don't toe the Republican party line is so obvious a statement it should inspire little shock (though similarly, I think it is equally obvious that superhero comics don't support the "liberal agenda", as that term is defined in the fevered dreams of the Right).

What is surprising, though, is that a presumably intelligent person looks at so substantively empty a slogan as "with great power comes great responsibility" and discerns support for any particular ideological position, much less a conservative one. I mean, Uncle Ben's injunction could just as easily be a slogan for national health care as it could a license for foreign adventurism. Or it could be neither, rather meaning something altogether different. Which is, I suppose, one reason superheros have proven so enduring a concept; as Jim Henley has noted, they provide an wonderful way to explore different conceptions of the way power and morality intersect.

That, and the explosions. And maybe the cheesecake factor.

Original link found via The Forager.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004


Judge Richard Posner, author of the Seventh Circuit opinion in the Gaiman/Mcfarlane case, has a blog. Or at least half of one. Posner and the economist Gary Becker have started a blog together, though as yet content is minimal. This is tremendous news for pseudo-intellectuals like myself; the output of both men is consistently interesting, and some of the least ideologically hidebound work you'll find out of two men nominally lumped into the conservative side of the divide. I'm very much looking forward to checking their blog out as it matures.

Now if only I could somehow cajole Clyde Drexler, one of my few remaining non-blogging idols to have a go at it. The world needs a Glideblog. I need a Glideblog.

Random linkblogging, because I'm too lazy for anything else. While Marc Singer has a go at those claiming to be lost in a story, John Holbo nibbles around the edges of what how one actually reads a comic. And in an only tangentially related post, Tim Burke wonders about the lack of a mature (and popular) criticism of video games, thinking that perhaps this lack handicaps games from assuming their rightful place in the economic/cultural landscape. This latter point can, I think, be traced back to comics as well; though here, and in the case of games as well, one confronts a bit of a chicken and egg problem--good criticism follows cultural acceptence but cultural acceptance is dependant partially on good critics to play the role of John the Baptist.

And over at The Onion, an oblique Dan Clowes gag. It's in the poll.