For alternative comics publishers, print is the new … print. And you can forget about reading them on your screens; you won’t find them there.
“In the past year or so we’ve seen the birth of some half-dozen new comics magazines and anthologies, all offline,” writes Etelka Lehoczky for NPR. “The Comics Journal, storied arbiter of the indie-comics world, launched a biannual paper edition in January — the first time it’s been in print form since 2012. Publisher IDW is on vol. 3 of its quarterly Full Bleed, and political cartoon site The Nib is putting out its fourth print issue (though it recently lost its corporate funding). Then there’s Fantagraphics’ anthology Now, whose sixth installment dropped in May, and Kitchen Table, from Top Shelf comics’ Brett Warnock.”
“If I’m looking at artwork, I’d rather have something in my hands,” Top Shelf’s Brett Warnock said. “It’s something you can revisit. I don’t think digital content has that kind of hold, honestly. I don’t trust digital things.”
Lehoczky realizes this trend might be counterintuitive; after all, Marvel and DC are all in on digital. But in the world of alternative comics, there’s a renewed vigor around paper.
“It’s something you can revisit. I don’t think digital content has that kind of hold, honestly. I don’t trust digital things.”
“[The Comics Journal’s R.J] Casey believes comics readers are fundamentally different from people drawn to, say, art books or even mainstream magazines,” Lehoczky continues. “He points out that many fans fell in love with the medium as kids, through superhero comic books. Their devotion to the form was forged after bedtime, reading comics under the covers with a flashlight.”
Ah, so here we are back to those visceral memories, in much the same way us grown-up up kids pored over printed catalogs this holiday season, with memories of those dog-eared wish books from our childhood.
Print makes that almost immediate connection to our memories, our emotions and our unconscious mind … and that makes it’s the perfect medium on which to consume something as delicious as a comic book.
“There’s something that attracts a certain kind of person to cartooning. Because it doesn’t take that much space, people can create them in private,” said Domino Books publisher Austin English. “You experience comics in private [too]. There’s something positive that happens when you’re reading on paper and the only comment you can make is in your own mind.”
To be sure, these are not the money-making machines that the Avengers have turned into … but these publications are fetching impressive prices thanks to their perceived value by the indie comics fan base.
“[IDW creative director Dirk Wood] says $25 for 200 pages of content is quite reasonable in the art-comics space, where a single graphic novel can go for that much,” Lehoczky continues. While some, like Now’s Eric Reynolds, focused on keeping the price down with a “utilitarian” feel, others are going luxe with heavier stock and soft covers.
“But even a simple newsprint publication can evoke something you don’t get from reading online — or so Gabe Fowler believes,” says Lehoczky. “The owner of Brooklyn’s Desert Island Comics has been putting out Smoke Signal, his Eisner-nominated anthology, for a decade. He sees it as a way to keep a certain kind of old-fashioned, pre-Internet authenticity alive.”
Lehoczky is quick to pick up on the seeming irony, as “mere newsprint,” created to be ultimately disposable, serves as the medium for these “self contained objects that have meaning.”
Ironic, comic, call it what you like; it makes me want to grab a flashlight and head to my hideout… and leave the phone behind.