Comics Disassembled: Ten Things of Note from the Past Week in Comics, Led by Vault Taking a Big Swing

Coming out of San Diego Comic Con, things are naturally a bit quieter. That said, the opening item this week is a fun one. Let’s get to that and more in Comics Disassembled, a look at ten things I liked or didn’t like from the week of comics, led by Vault doing things!

1. Comics? For Free? In this Economy?!

In what is easily the most interesting news of the week, the mad scientists at Vault Comics are doing something rather intriguing: they’re making the upcoming Unnatural Order #1 from writer Christopher Yost and artist Val Rodrigues free for retailers.

What does that mean, exactly? It is as simple as it sounds. It means that when shops order this book – either via Lunar or Diamond, with identical listings at both, per Vault – they pay nothing for it, except for shipping of course. The only caveat is they have to order in bundles of 25, but besides that and the shipping, it’s go nuts and do what you can to make this book work in your shop with no risk — save for having excess inventory around.

This is interesting for a number of reasons. Let’s start with what it does for shops: it negates all risk, basically. There’s no cost. Take 25. Take 7,000. Whatever. It’s the same cost, outside shipping. While there might be undefined limits, like a small shop ordering 10,000 copies may raise some eyebrows and start some conversations, the premise is the same. And risk has been a huge part of the problem for the shops lately, in that shops are taking on more of it while publishers are not. This…uhh…puts all the risk on Vault in a real way. It allows shops to order for what they hope to sell rather than what they think might sell, a pair of numbers that often have a massive divide.

Shops likely won’t order a ton without reason. They’re mostly still risk averse, free or not, and likely don’t want to be stuck with a bunch of comics they can’t sell. That’s what makes the 25 copy bundles the secret sauce of this whole endeavor for Vault. A shop can’t just order, like, seven copies, or three. You have to order in bundles of 25, which means you have to commit to a decent number at a minimum, and one that greatly surpasses what your average shop probably sells of the average Vault release. It establishes a strong floor for this book’s presence in the market and a baseline commitment from shops. That’s the tradeoff for it being free for shops to order. It’s free to order, but you have to really be ready to lean into this.

The other fascinating wrinkle is a line that drops later in the press release. While this comic will still face all the headwinds with comic shop customers that all Vault titles have, especially with a MSRP of $4.99, Vault is allowing shops to do something about that. Instead of enforcing that price point, shops “will be free to sell, discount, or freely distribute copies to their customers,” per the press release. Want to give them away? Want to charge $1? Want to charge $2.37? Do what you want. Whatever makes it easier to move this comic, basically. That gives shops a lot of power to make this work. The only difficulty is now the onus is on shops to make that pricing stick and communicate it clearly, but that’s optionality they can work with.

While this won’t create consumer interest, it can create an ideal environment for the possibility of it. More importantly, it gives this book a chance to have a higher ceiling than it would otherwise, as this is sure to generate more orders from shops than a regular priced edition. It reminds me of what Image did several years ago when they made issues of The Walking Dead, Saga, and Outcast 25 cents for customers, an effort that created a surge in orders for each. Now, it’s worth noting I was just at a back issue sale at my shop where an entire long box was just excess inventory from that endeavor, but there’s a big difference between that effort and what Vault is doing. All those comics were well into their runs by that point. Bringing on new readers is tough by then. Unnatural Order is a number one, meaning you’re onboarding to a beginning rather than mid-stream for a series. That’s a much easier sell in my opinion.

Does that mean it will work? Not necessarily. It might just mean shops have piles of leftover inventory of this comic. But it gets Vault’s foot in the door, and it gives this book a real shot. That’s a win for them.

While there are other elements to this launch, like net-priced open order variants from Tula Lotay and Maria Wolf (neat), the fact this is Yost’s return to comics after writing movies like Thor Ragnarok (cool), and the plot of the actual comic (probably important), my focus is entirely on this pricing maneuver. It’s a big swing from Vault. As you know, I appreciate those. I’d love to see other publishers try things like this, even if it’s not specifically this. It’s a cool idea, and one I’ll be interested to see the impact of (which, quick note, will be felt more on #2 and #3 and beyond than #1, as the hope is this low-cost or no-cost issue creates readers down the line. That’s been tough to do of late, so this is a move designed to hopefully ensure there’s readership for those going forward).

2. Donny Cates, Recovering

With his name disappearing off his varying Marvel titles and his creator-owned work slowing down dramatically, a common question lately has been, “Where is Donny Cates?” I’ve seen it a number of places, even hearing some ideas as to the answer to that question recently. But we’ve never really had a sense as to what was going on outside intermittent revelations on Twitter from the writer himself.

Which, I want to say, is fair. We all go through things, and whether we make those things public or not is (and should be) our choice, not the world’s. The fact that we buy Hulk or Thor or Vanish or Crossover means we buy those comics and are taken into those worlds, not that the people involved owe us the ability to look into their own ones when things happen in their lives. Again, it’s up to them, and publicly speculating doesn’t do anyone any good, least of all the person whose life is receiving the focus.

All that said, Bleeding Cool ran a piece this week pulling the curtain back a fair bit, with insight from Cates himself as to what has been going on. While it’s not the only part of the story, the biggest thing is that he got into a severe car accident that resulted in significant injuries and memory loss, with the latter effectively impacting a six month stretch afterwards. The article includes images of Cates that reflect those injuries, and it’s clear he’s gone through a lot — and continues to do so. This is undoubtedly a time where it behooves a person to focus on themselves, and I hope this has been a time of recovery and improved health for Cates. I recently saw he’ll be a guest at NYCC, and as Rich Johnston notes in the piece, he was at the recent San Diego Comic Con, so maybe he’s in process of reentering the comic space in this way.

Fingers crossed for a full recovery, though, and improved health and happiness for Cates going forward. He’s been through a lot and deserves a good run of luck from here.

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