Comics Disassembled: Ten Things of Note from the Past Week in Comics, Led by a Bad Idea

The comic industry loves being weird, but this week really went for it. Let’s digest the insanity in another edition of Comics Disassembled, my look at ten things I liked or didn’t like from the week of comics.

1. Bad Idea, Living Up to Its Name?

Oh boy.

Let’s start this with a series of caveats. If you’ve been reading my writing or listening to my podcast for a while, you know I love publishers doing things in a different way than usual. Higher quality production value. Outside the box thinking. Not just doing the same thing everyone is doing. I think that’s necessary, particularly if you’re a new company trying to enter the market. There are so many comics out there that just publishing standard new comics – particularly superheroes or science fiction titles – through Diamond in the usual way isn’t a good recipe to success. You need an angle if you’re going to make a dent. Being good isn’t good enough. You have to be different. It’s a whole thing.

THAT SAID…there are limits to that. It still has to make sense to a degree.

When new comics publisher Bad Idea was announced yesterday, it was hard not to think that this may be the wrong kind of new. This outfit from the former Valiant trio of Dinesh Shamdasani, Warren Simons and Hunter Gorinson is doing things rather differently. Here’s a quick rundown of their differentiators, ordered on a scale of “okay, I get that” to this gif:

  • Prestige, oversized single issue releases
  • No variants
  • Self-distributed
  • No more than one or two releases a month
  • No digital
  • No collections
  • Only sold in 20 select comic shops in America, each of which will be required to have “enhanced signage, promotional displays, and rules for stocking and selling Bad Idea releases, including a strictly enforced ‘limit one per customer’ policy” on all of their releases. They may expand their reach to a total of roughly 50 shops in the first year.

I fall into gif territory completely by item #5, but here’s the good thing: in some ways, I get this. Building a publisher designed to focus on making great, well-crafted, well-produced comics that does something different with its approach is a nice thought. In theory. Exclusivity is a great way to build buzz. In theory. Narrowing your efforts to a specific format could lead to wins in that format. In theory.

Unfortunately, comics are not made in theory, nor are they made in a vacuum. In terms of actual application, the only thing this does, at least to me, is limit Bad Idea’s ceiling as a seller of comics from “maybe a Valiant-level success” to “frustrating curiosity.” And the crazy thing is even the peak there is not that high. Most retailers I talk to only bring up Valiant when they share how they can never sell their comics. Compared to what I’ve heard of the new version so far, Bad Idea would be hoping for that as an upside. I did a quick temperature check on this planned roll out, and it seems to me that shops have already moved on from them on day one. To them, it’s an extremely tough sell, and arguably something they wouldn’t even try to get involved with if given the opportunity to do so. And that’s a nightmarish starting position.

It’s easy to see why. If you’re not part of the selected 20 shops, then you have to hope to make it in the next wave of 30 or so in the following year. There are something like 2,500 comic shops that Diamond services, so we’re talking about 2% of the total comic shop population. There was a comparable chance of being raptured in The Leftovers, but based off what I heard from some, being removed from this earthly plane might be more desirable to some shops than even talking business with this crew after reading the announcement. You could argue this is a way to build hype amongst a select group of readers and retailers in a fashion that’s similar to limited runs of movies building excitement before full theatrical release, and I could buy it for a second. But comic shops don’t operate like movie theaters. If Parasite was a comic and it was only sold at Midtown Comics for the first year, Joe Q. Comic Shop Owner in Omaha would never even consider carrying it later on. It’s just now how comics works.

This is of course not even including how this exclusivity actively denies the vast majority of comic readers the opportunity to read these comics. If your objective is to make good comics above all, why would you purposefully deny readers the opportunity to read them? In one fell swoop, Bad Idea incited its two main audiences: comic shops and readers. Not a great start! And this Dinesh Shamdasani quote from an interview Multiversity Comics did with the main trio makes it feel even worse:

We’re going to make the stores that are Bad Idea stores very publicly known. You can call them, if you find the right ones, if you’re nice enough, maybe they’ll ship them to you. Find a friend in the local neighborhood, eBay, and the Internet are always available. And if not, it’s an impossibility for us to prevent these books from being available in some format that is not, let’s say above board. They’ll find them.

When piracy and eBay are suggested methods for someone interested in reading your comics, you’ve set up a tough business model.

I racked my brain trying to think of what the decision making process could be with this. My first thought – when I heard about it back at NYCC – was courting speculators, but limiting shops to selling one copy per customer nerfs that. My next thought was that they aren’t really trying to sell comics and this is a pure intellectual property play. Use the comics as storyboards effectively for film and television projects through Hivemind, the production arm of this outfit, showcasing these stories as proof of concept and even – hopefully – their buy-in rate as a barometer for interest. That feels like the most probable idea behind it, and it certainly makes me wonder what the deal is for creators that are going to be involved like Matt Kindt, Lewis LaRosa, Eric Heisserer and others.

I will note, though, that I genuinely believe the trio behind this wants to make good comics. I think they’re likely to pour their hearts and souls into them, and even though it’s largely the creators they worked with at Valiant, there is still a lot of talent involved. Matt Kindt and Doug Braitwaite is a great creative starting point. There’s a good chance these could be very solid, very interesting comics that are of a high production value. That’s a good thing, and if that’s the case, this is an attempt to thread the needle of “caring about comics” and “making them profitable in a way.” I can see the value of that idea.

I respect the innovation. I like the outside the box thinking. I obviously love the high production value and the oversized nature of the books, especially at a $3.99 price point. Some of the ideas are weird – no collections is a tough one to buy into – and yet, I get the idea as a whole…until we get to the starting point of 20 comic shops only. That’s where you lose me, because I know that if these comics are great, Bosco’s Comics in Anchorage, Alaska will never be one of those 20 to 50 featured shops. And because of that, I will never read these comics, nor will a whole lot of people that might eventually be interested in checking them out. It’s a fundamental idea I can’t get behind, because I don’t know how creating comics the vast majority of existing comic fans – let alone potential new readers – will never get to read is good for anyone.

More will come with this. It’s day two of their existence, and there is assuredly much more meat on these bones. I’m trying to get a time lined up to talk with someone from the Bad Idea squad about this plan, because hey, maybe there’s something I missed. Maybe there is something more to this idea. I am sure the team behind this has thought it out far more than I have. If anyone knows its weaknesses and strengths, it’s them. We’ll see if they can get me there when we chat.

2. Dexter Vines, Needing Help

Dexter Vines is a great inker – undeniably so, with a career doing outrageously great work on artists like Ed McGuinness and Steve McNiven, perhaps most notably on Civil War – and one whom you never hear anything bad about. Just that he’s a talented guy that’s an even better person. That’s a double threat person that you love to see in comics.

And now, he needs our help. Vines has blood cancer and two fractured vertebrae, and needless to say that’s going to require a lot of doctor’s visits and a lot of cost. The good news is it was caught early, but because of the nature of the injury and the treatment, it’s going to set him back a lot and make it impossible to work, a deadly duo that puts him in a tough spot. That’s where his GoFundMe comes in. If you have anything to give, this is someone who has given a whole lot to comics and could use your help now. From what I understand the campaign will be up until at least late Friday, maybe through the weekend. So getting your donations in soon could make a huge difference in the life of one of the best guys in comics.

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