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NYT: Surge of republications of comics is awesome

Douglas Wolk, writing for the New York Times, writes about the surge of comic strip republications lately.

As the modern-day American newspaper comic strip slowly chokes to death, done in by shrinking spaces and exhausted franchises, its more vibrant ancestors are living in renewed luxury. Comic strips are the most ephemeral kind of art; each installment is intended to last only as long as a single day?s paper. Now, though, virtually every major American strip of the past century or so is being reprinted in its entirety in handsome, well-designed editions, with better reproduction than it had the first time around.

I own several “complete collections” and admit enjoying reading them in this form than their daily newspaper version. The downside is I have to wait for the original creator to die or the comic to come to a complete stop before it makes it into a box set.

Community Comments

#1 Tom Wood
@ 5:59 pm

I guess it’s nice that the work is collected and reprinted. But this is a lot like Hollywood investing in remakes instead of taking a chance on new material.

#2 Joe Vissichelli
@ 10:10 am

Yeah, instead of “The king is dead, long live the king” to welcome a new monarch, we now have “”The king is dead, let’s bring him back again.” Not much to celebrate.

#3 Woodrow Barlettani
@ 12:59 pm

…. Well said Tom Wood and Joe, still don’t care much for those Old musicals and never was a big fan of “Peanuts” letz keep it moving…

#4 Tom Pappalardo
@ 6:25 pm

I think collecting generally-ephemeral bodies of work together into easy-to-find volumes is awesome and important, for both the artists and the audience. Collections please old audiences and create new ones. They earn money for artists who were likely underpaid the first time around.

I think to dismiss something simply because it isn’t new anymore is sort of a sad outlook on art. Are you guys only listening to music made in 2010?

#5 Stacy Curtis
@ 1:52 am

I think most syndicates offer full archives of past & current strips online through a paid service.
But nothing beats having a massive collection sitting on your bookshelf.

#6 Mike Cope
@ 7:43 am

There’s a generation of cartoonists still alive who remember reading features like Pogo and Krazy Kat in their newspaper. Comic collections like these are great “textbooks” for younger students of cartooning.

The creators may have passed on, but their work is all new to me.

#7 Hagen Cartoons
@ 3:49 pm

Collections are a good way for people not living in the US to be able to obtain the cartoons. I bought the complete “Far Side” books a few years ago and love it.
I also buy books from other US cartoonists through Amazon (evern though the postage to Australia is a complete rip off!)

#8 Ted Dawson
@ 5:45 pm

Maybe comic strip cartoonists should start bypassing newspapers and just go straight to book form now.

#9 Ted Rall
@ 4:10 am

Cartoon compilations are a tough sell. Sales are directly related to the number of newspapers a feature appears in. Print newspapers.

A wildly successful web-based comic strip artist has book sales that are a fraction of a third-tier print-based syndicated cartoonist.

By the way, because you might laugh, or cry:

#10 dave nelson
@ 6:40 am

Nice toon, Ted! Also, I’m afraid you’re right about the collections, one look at the bookstore shelves will confirm. If I remember the interview right, Edison Lee’s John Hambrock couldn’t even find a publisher to print his collection.

@ 7:14 am

…reprinting old strips…isn’t this how comic books started? I’m giving away my age again.

#12 josh shalek
@ 10:35 am

Book collections used to be the only way I could read comics that weren’t in my daily paper. Even now, with internet archives, I prefer to sit down with a book to catch up on old favorites, new comics I’ve never seen in newspapers, and classics like Krazy Kat or Popeye.

#13 Terry LaBan
@ 11:44 am

The thing is, if a web-based cartoonist is selling his own book through his website, he’ll make a lot more per book than a syndicated cartoonist whose book is published by Andrews McMeel, and he’ll keep it in print longer. He’s also selling it directly to genuine readers, not just people wandering through a Barnes and Noble in one of his newspaper’s markets. So a web cartoonist, even selling many less than a syndicated cartoonist, can still make as much or more money. That being said, if you’re not Bill Watterson or Gary Larson, you’re not going to be living off your compilation royalties.

#14 Ted Rall
@ 12:20 pm

Terry, That’s true.

Personally, however, I’d rather have more readers, even if I get paid less per copy. I view comics as a mass medium, not a niche business. And I *really* want the new readers who spontaneously pick up a book in a B&N somewhere–that’s a great way to get new fans.

#15 Ryan Sohmer
@ 1:37 pm

“A wildly successful web-based comic strip artist has book sales that are a fraction of a third-tier print-based syndicated cartoonist.”

That is completely untrue, according to the tracking available to publishers at Nielsen Bookscan.

For example, Penny Arcade Vol. 1 has sold close 18,000 copies in stores while your ‘Year of loving dangerously” has barely sold a few hundred. Even your Andrews McNeel titles have just made it by the 1,000 sold in stores.

What your statement should have read, is that a wildly successful web-based comic strip has book sales of a single title that are greater than all the books you have ever sold in your career via brick and mortar shops.

More than happy to provide other examples.

#16 Scott Kurtz
@ 1:49 pm

“A wildly successful web-based comic strip artist has book sales that are a fraction of a third-tier print-based syndicated cartoonist.”

I’ll also add that we only HAVE to sell a fraction because we keep all the money. We don’t have to give half of it to a syndicate with their thumbs up their butts.

So I can sell 1,000 books and make the same money you make selling 10,000.

Keep that in mind when comparing sales figures.

#17 Scott Metzger
@ 2:14 pm

Uh oh….this might get ugly.

#18 Tom Wood
@ 2:34 pm

It doesn’t have to get ugly. There are some real challenges here.

The real issue is getting enough exposure to a wide enough audience. Syndicated newspaper comics have that exposure by default, but that’s slowly eroding.

Early webcomics got out there first and gathered an audience when there wasn’t much competition. Like the early blogs, they have an advantage, and good on them for taking the risk, doing the work, and sticking around.

Now though, it’s very hard to establish a new website and be found amidst the noise. And unless you get found, there won’t be an audience for a compilation of material nobody saw the first time around.

So unless you have the resources of a Huffington, the task lies in gathering an audience. IMO

#19 guy endore-kaiser
@ 2:37 pm

Speaking as a third-tier print-based syndicated cartoonist, I call liars on Ted.

#20 Norm Feuti
@ 2:54 pm

A low-level syndicated cartoonist doesn’t have a chance of getting a collection published at all in this market. I’d call anything better than zero.

#21 Ken Bray
@ 3:15 pm

Is the tracking data on Nielsen Bookscan available to the general public? I visited the US site and couldn’t make heads or tails of it.

#22 Dave Stephens
@ 3:52 pm

C’mon Ted – face the music. Dance, monkey, dance! LOL

Accept your total and unconditional defeat and… Wait a minute, I’m talking about Ted, aren’t I? Never mind. Just ignore the silly facts, they don’t matter, do they? LOL

#23 Wanderlei Silva
@ 4:12 pm

“We don?t have to give half of it to a syndicate with their thumbs up their butts.”

So that’s why the rejection letters smell like ass…

#24 Ted Dawson
@ 7:54 pm

Ted, I laughed and I cried. Good cartoon.

I don’t think we could say how well a comic strip would do by going straight to book form unless we had an example. Have there been any?

#25 Jason Nocera
@ 8:06 pm

If it’s anything like his reaction to Google Analytics he’ll scoff at “Nielsen Bookscan,” tell you that everyone knows it’s completely inaccurate and then ignore your requests for articles that state it’s inaccurate.

#26 Stephen Beals
@ 9:02 pm

I love the self-published collections. I would much rather buy one directly from a cartoonist. I hope more syndicated cartoonists go through Lulu, or whatever, because there’s too much good stuff right now that’s not being collected.

#27 Garey Mckee
@ 9:08 pm

Let’s not forget that self publishing through a service like LuLu takes a rather large chunk of change. Even if you expect to make that back and more, dropping a fairly large wad of bills in the initial investment can be a strain, and sometimes impossible.

#28 Tony Piro
@ 9:32 pm

I generally agree that POD is not the most cost effective way to go, especially Lulu, which although popular, is not a good deal if you actually want to make money.

When I printed my collection POD, it took a lot of research to find a printer that could give me a reasonable price (especially since I wanted a full-color book). Here’s the result of my research:

If you are doing a B&W book, you can print things MUCH cheaper. The printer that I found with the best customer service and prices was 360 Digital Print, which I think Robb Armstrong (Jump Start) has also used for his books.

#29 Tom Wood
@ 10:56 pm

Has anyone offered a digital collection? Maybe a SD card or flash drive with an organized collection pre-loaded?

#30 Stephen Beals
@ 12:25 am

Considering I can’t find my Candorville book (no, I already looked in the bathroom), I’d hate to think of how long an SD card would last for me.

Yeah, there’s digital collections out there, but I don’t have enough eye drops, Excedrin or stomach lining to read for a long time on a monitor. I’d rather have it printed, but a decent reader would would work. Instead of losing one book I could lose my entire collection.

#31 Charles Beasley
@ 1:49 am

?A wildly successful web-based comic strip artist has book sales that are a fraction of a third-tier print-based syndicated cartoonist.?

So what tier does this make Ted Rall?

#32 Ted Rall
@ 6:24 am

My quote above wasn’t about me. I’m not a comic-strip artist; I’m an editorial cartoonist.

Also, my best-selling books have been To Afghanistan and Back, Revenge of the Latchkey Kids, etc. I do best with books that mix words and cartoons. My editorial cartoon collections are my worst sellers, though not nearly as lousy as BookScan reports, thank God.

And yes, BookScan is utter crap. Total. Utter. Garbage. No one who cares about accuracy should trust their numbers.

I don’t pretend to know or care how BookScan (supposedly) works, but I do know a lot of publishing professionals who say that their numbers bear no resemblance whatsoever to reality. They wildly overreport many titles and wildly underreport many others. Most publishers use BookScan to see how titles compare to other titles within a genre, not to count figures.

Suffice it to say that if my books actually sold in accordance with BookScan’s numbers, no one would ever publish more of them. I trust my royalty checks–which show my books selling by a factor of five to ten times higher than BookScan. It’s not like publishers are running charitable foundations.

There has been a lot of discussion about this online:

and elsewhere.

@Ted D.: Thanks!


@Tom: Yes, people have offered digital collections. The cartoonists I’ve talked to say they had little success with this approach, but I wonder if some interesting customized packaging might not help.

@Tony: I had good luck with POD for “Gas War.” I used iUniverse when I couldn’t find a publisher–even left-wing publishers were afraid to criticize the Afghan occupation back in 2002–and had the good fortune to get their support to help promote it. The royalty structure was better than I usually get, I got the book out there, and I didn’t have to stock boxes of books in my spider-infested garage, much less mail the suckers out. The checks still come in quarterly, and reliably, and substantially.

POD can be a good solution for people who’d rather draw and write than stuff envelopes. But I wouldn’t recommend it unless you already have a base of readers.

#33 Ted Dawson
@ 8:27 am

I used Createspace for Spooner. Since Amazon acquired Createspace, this gives you an ISBN for your books and listing on Lulu charges quite a bit extra for an ISBN. My cost for the books with b&w interior is something like $2.00.

For me, this was just a personal project. Offering the books for sale was incidental. But for someone who doesn’t want to make the substantial initial investment of a small print run, it seems pretty reasonable.

Books with color interiors, though, are not cost-effective in any way. Even I can’t afford my own Sunday comics collection book. Cost on it is something like $19.00.

I’ve also used Ka-Blam for some comic book proofs. Try getting 32 color copies at Kinkos for three bucks! They do a great job, but I don’t know if it’s cost effective for printing copies to sell.

It’s not so bad for a b&w graphic novel, with a cost of around $5.00. You could do a print run of 2,000 in full color for less than that, but POD can be a good way to start. I know more than a few people who end up with a basement full of unsold books. Plus, they’re printed in the USA.

#34 Tom Wood
@ 10:30 am

@Tom: Yes, people have offered digital collections. The cartoonists I?ve talked to say they had little success with this approach, but I wonder if some interesting customized packaging might not help.

I could see packaging the collection on an SD card along with a digital picture frame device. And maybe when tablet PCs are about $100 do the same with them. Make the comic collection a value-added thing. Also include a nice organizer/display program.

#35 Ryan Sohmer
@ 12:44 pm

I won’t debate the vailidity of BookScan here with you, despite its daily use by every major publisher in North America.

Still, since you at least agree that it is useful for comparisons, we can put your statement to the test.

Pick a few ‘third-tier print-based syndicated cartoonists’ and I will gladly assemble the data. Unless you wish to retract your statement?

#36 Derf Backderf
@ 1:13 pm

Ted always wins these arguments. He has an annoying habit of being factually correct.

Do we really need more Peanuts collections, no matter how nifty Fantagraphics makes them? Aren’t there enough of those frakkng things? I still have a book club edition of A Peanuts Treasury that I bought when I was 8 years old. That suits me plenty.

#37 Booker
@ 2:29 pm

I’ve eead the articles Ted references and something is abundantly clear.

When people look at BookScan numbers they don’t always understand what the numbers mean, where they come from and why they’re different to the publisher’s own figures, so here’s a couple of FAQ:

1) BookScan doesn’t cover all retail sales, just a large percentage. Why not all?

The BookScan data is collected through retailer’s EPOS Systems (EPOS = Electronic Point Of Sales), i.e. their computerised cash registers. Any bookseller that doesn’t use a cash register that ties into an electronic stock control system that logs the sales and can then output a file to the BookScan system Nielsen can’t easily log their sales with BookScan. Some booksellers aren’t interested in the system, so don’t supply their data to it.Some retailers only have books as a small part of their stock and don’t feel the need to participate.

However, as BookScan DOES cover the major book retailers what you do get from the data is a good picture of the RELATIVE number of sales between different books to the book-buying public. It’s not how many Dan Brown books sell, it’s whether MORE sold than JK Rowling’s. Because the sample size is large enough, any effect of the lack of total coverage is going to be more or less equal on all publications.

Publishers who just look at the raw figures in isolation aren’t using the data properly.

2) A book shows 20,000 sales though BookScan but my publisher tells me they shipped 40,000. Even taking in to account that Nielsen’s coverage is not 100% the figure seems way off. Why? And why do publishers need BookScan anyway, when they should know how may they sold from their own figures?

The most important thing to understand is there is a world of difference between the copies of a book that the publisher sells, and the number that actually sell. You see, a publisher might well have shipped 40,000 copies of a book, but all that means is that those books were sold to bookstores. They might still be there six months later in the bargain bin, or waiting to be returned as unsold stock. Technically the publishers should deduct the returned books from their original sales numbers, but those were reported months ago so it’s a bit late to do the calculation.That’s why the publishers need the BookScan data. What BookScan tells publishers is how many of the 40,000 they sold to the retailers were then sold to the public (including how quickly and and at what price), which is almost never going to be 40,000.

#38 James Earnshaw
@ 5:18 pm

Why is Ted Rall such a ridiculous liar? It’s very disheartening to read his comments, when he simply continues to ignore reality and actively mislead.

I really am starting to feel a lot of sympathy for him, as their is clearly something wrong with him.

#39 Ted Rall
@ 11:40 am

I don’t know.
And me too!

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