Pretty solid serial killer film that focuses primarily on the cops (Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Sam Worthington) closing in on a suspect that abducts a young girl (Chloe Moretz). There is a lot of anger in this movie, a lot of aggression and all-around grimness that adds some suspense. Good supporting work as well from Jessica Chastain and Twin Peaks’ Sheryl Lee, who plays Moretz’ white-trash mom. Had this script gone another way it could have been mistaken for the creepy Canadian film The Reflecting Skin.
I don’t know why, but I have always loved ski movies. It’s especially strange considering that I am a terrible skier and a barely competent snowboarder. But for whatever reason, I can watch the goofy old Canadian film Ski School or the US’ Out Cold (a bizarre combination of Lee Majors, Casablanca, and Zach Galifianakis) over and over again.
Now the UK brings us Chalet Girl, a charming romantic comedy with an impressive cast including Bill Nighy, Brooke Shields, Ed Westwick, Tamsin Egerton, and young star Felicity Jones. Jones plays former junior skateboarding champ Kim, who has lost her will to compete after the accidental death of her mother. Short of cash, she accepts a job as a chalet girl in Switzerland, fixing breakfast and waiting on a wealthy family when they decide to visit. The rest of the time she is free to try her hand at snowboarding, which a friend assures her is just like skateboarding. Of course, there is a competition coming up with a prize that could solve her money problems, and she attracts the attention of the son in the wealthy family.
As you can see, it is pretty familiar ground plotwise, but I didn’t mind. Its tone reminded me quite a bit of Bend it Like Beckham, and the cast and director clearly enjoyed telling their tale in the beautiful Swiss alps. It is definitely smarter than the average ski movie, and would fit in well with other character-driven UK productions like Fever Pitch, Tamara Drewe, and Cemetery Junction, which also featured Felicity Jones (as did Like Crazy, recently reviewed here). Miss Jones carries this film effortlessly and I wouldn’t be surprised if she becomes a major star outside of the UK.
Oh everything was just a false start; forget the shit I sang before
strike it from the record and snap my records off the floor
let me eat up all those words, the poorly placed and hastily chosen
strike them from the record before you flip this record over
- “Love and Mercy Fights”
I have known Adam Mowery for a little while now, not well enough to hang out and go to movies or anything, but well enough to follow his performing career and occasionally chat about music or movies. He has moved to Halifax so I don’t see him around town as much, sadly, but I did have the pleasure of watching him perform an acoustic set yesterday at Backstreet Records. Most of the songs were from this new CD, “St. Joseph’s Mechanical Penthouse,” which I picked up before leaving the store.
I think I can fairly say that Adam’s music has always oscillated between excited lo-fi power pop and moody, atmospheric pieces. As a power pop fan I have always preferred the former, but appreciated the latter too, especially in “Fernhill” and the “Port City” collaboration with Tyler Crawford. Both sides of Mowery are evident in this new record, but he has raised the bar considerably, combining mature musings about relationships with production that somehow manages to be lo-fi and lush at the same time thanks to support from local stalwarts Jud Crandall, Adam Keirstead, and Pierre Cormier. I hate to always review music by comparing it to something else, but I think Adam might be pleased to know that on my first listen I was reminded especially of Guided By Voices’ “Alien Lanes” and early Cure. My favourite tracks so far are “The Black Path”, “Needle to the Heart”, “Soft Features”, “Sound of the Year” and “Center of a Long Time”.
I couldn’t be more pleased with this album, or for Adam. If this talented motherfucker comes to your town to play a show, don’t miss it. You can get the album and most of his older music at his bandcamp page.
Had an interesting exchange with comics writer Ed Brubaker (@brubaker) on Twitter last night, in which he claimed that if digital comics were priced at a dollar, companies would need to sell 50,000 copies just to pay the creative team, to say nothing of editorial, promotion, and other production costs. That struck me as a very high number based on my research, but I have no doubt that he’s right; it just means that my previous numbers were way off.
My friend Michael also chimed in to claim that the cost of running the server farm for digital comics would be comparable to the cost of printing and shipping paper ones, and while I don’t doubt that there are substantial costs, I do know the printing business a little; I suspect that the true per unit cost of serving a digital comic is a matter of pennies as opposed to dimes for printing and shipping hard copies.
So anyway, the point is I was full of shit on my numbers the other day. I apologize. It’s frustrating that real word figures are so hard to get ahold of. For what it’s worth I did obtain numbers from the latest edition of the Handbook for Pricing and Ethical Guidelines for the Graphic Artists Guild. They expect writers to get paid $75-120 per page, pencillers $100-250, inkers $75-200, letterers $40-50, and colourists $100-150. These numbers align with a similar document from Australia. Which means the cost of talent on a typical comic with 22 pages of story is about $9000 to $18,000 US for people getting paid “scale”. Depending on the cut a company gets per comic sold, that certainly aligns wih Brubaker’s claim.
Does that change my conclusion from the other day? Yes and no. I still believe that a low price point, like a dollar, will encourage strong sales growth and defuse a certain amount of piracy, just as it has with music. The adjusted numbers just means that the time to profit for a publisher could be much longer than I thought. Of course, with digital they have more time.
Brubaker went on to say that he wants to make sure artists get paid fairly as this shift continues, and I quite agree. Comics are a business with a history of ripping off the talent and sometimes the readers too. So while I do sympathize with Brubaker’s sentiments, I think he and the mainstream comics industry should also take careful note of what consumers appear to be saying: that the price of comics is too high, be they print or digital. The perceived value of a $4 digital file is far lower than that of one on paper. Digital is an opportunity to give the readers more without the added expense of printing and distributing more paper. It may also be the first time that a one-person operation, thanks to the lower overhead, can compete in the same solar system with a major publisher if the product and user experience is good enough.
Anyway, I will leave that stuff to the pros for now and obviously I will be watching with interest. I still plan to write about the experience of reading digital comics, and based on some tinkering last night I have more thoughts on iBooks Author, so watch for that stuff in the next few days.
Important Note! A keen-eyed reader pointed out to me that I misread some stats for last year on comichron.com. My apologies, I have revised the post accordingly.
Also! My numbers for production costs were also way off, as explained in this post. I am leaving this post online because I think it still has some worthwhile points, but my conclusions about the present-day viability of digital-only comics for everyone have to change. My apologies for all the confusion, I did not intend to misinform.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about digital comics, and when I say “digital comics”, I mean comics that are read on a computer screen, whatever their provenance. In other words, this means scans and exports of print comics as well as webcomics; it means Marvel, DC and other major publishers as well as the independent one-person-show. Obviously, all this thinking is partly because I am (ever so slowly) making them myself. But it’s also because a good portion of the comics I read are digital, available primarily on the web, and I enjoy them as much as most of what I read in print.
I have been making notes about this for a little while now and wound up having so much to say that I am breaking it up into a few posts: today’s is my speculation about what the “sweet spot” is for the price point of digital comics. The next post on this topic will be about the experience of reading digital comics, especially on the iPad. After that I will probably write about my limited experience with making them.
I don’t have a lot of spare cash. I am very grateful to my local library for loading up on graphic novels the way that they have. Yeah, maybe it means that some cartoonists aren’t getting the cash they would have if I had bought their books, but honestly, that is not the case most of the time. The books I borrow from the library tend to be stuff that I have already paid for once and since sold, like Jaime Hernandez’ Locas books, or stuff that I would not ordinarily buy for myself because I don’t know the artist or anything about the book. Sometimes this does lead to a purchase, like with Derek Kirk Kim’s The Eternal Smile; his online comics also led me to buy the physical copy of Same Difference. Sometimes I discover something I like a lot more than I expected, like Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba’s Daytripper, or several of Jason’s books from Fantagraphics.
But there are some others I would probably never buy, much less read again. Forgettable stuff like Checkmate, which to me is the worst kind of superhero title, mixing metahumans with boring political pontification. I’m glad that the library gives me a chance to try this stuff out, because hey, who knows? I don’t keep up with mainstream comics news really, and it’s a bit intimidating to come in late on a long project like Fables or The Walking Dead.
Anyway. I am old enough to remember a time when it wasn’t difficult to try out a comics title, because each issue was generally a self-contained story, and it cost a quarter. I realize that inflation can account for some of the price rise, and the overall quality of the physical comic book – the paper, the production, the delivery – is better than when I was a kid. The content, well, it varies. There were shit comics in the mid-70s and there are certainly shit comics now.
Probably the biggest difference between then and now is just the sheer availability of comics. Last week I walked into a comic shop and picked up a trade paperback of a comic I read when I was a kid, Steve Gerber’s Omega The Unknown. It had been marked down to $6.00 from an original cover price of $48 (Cdn.) Now, $48 is fucking ridiculous for a trade paperback that reprints 12 comics in colour. It should be no more than half that, and ideally in my opinion it would be less than $20. All that aside, I am happy to go to a good comic shop and see that a lot of the stuff I used to read, and a lot of stuff that I always wanted to read but couldn’t because it was not in print, is available in some form or other. DC’s Showcase phonebooks, Marvel’s Essential phonebooks (I call them that after the nickname for Dave Sim’s Cerebus trade paperbacks), and nicer collections like the Kirby Archives and Fantagraphics’ amazing efforts. I could easily spend thousands of dollars buying hardcovers and trades of classic and not so classic comics that I want to read and own.
I realize that there are issues with this. There are bizarre royalty schemes and artists getting screwed and collections not being to some people’s satisfaction and stories being left out and so on and so forth. For example, I have been disappointed by all of the collections of Scott McCloud’s classic series Zot!, except I suppose for the Eclipse trade paperback collecting the first few issues. The Kitchen Sink collections after that were insanely expensive, and the more recent collection of the black and white issues omits “Getting to 99″, a two-part story drawn by Chuck Dixon instead of McCloud. The point is that the trade paperbacks are out there, they’re not perfect, but they are available for those who want them.
Which brings me to “floppies”, the 32-page individual issues of comics that publishers still push out to shops and readers still collect from their pull lists. This used to be the primary method of getting your comics. In the last 20 years however, a significant chunk of readers have adopted the approach of “waiting for the trade,” meaning they pick up the trade paperback collection rather than buy the issues one at a time. There are a number of reasons for this: trade paperbacks are easier to store, they don’t have any collectible value so you don’t feel pressured to bag and board and store them carefully and so on.
The side effect of this is that publishers now “write for the trade” as well. Gone are the days of a comic being self-contained. If you pick up a Batman comic, it is Part 1 of 6 or 8 or whatever number of issues it takes to make up a trade paperback. Some writers manage to keep things compelling anyway but most do not. So between my childhood and now, the cost of reading a comics story has changed from the cost of buying one comic to the cost of buying 6. Sure, the story is longer, maybe the art is better depending on your tastes, but is the experience better? I don’t really think so. And if you are a hardcore fan of some of those Big Superhero Characters, you must buy several titles a month to keep up.
Let’s take a look at this month’s Batman comics: if you want to buy all of the comics related to the “Batman universe” in February of 2012, you are looking at 15(!) titles: Batman, Penguin: Pain and Prejudice, Detective Comics, The Dark Knight, Batwing, Batman and Robin, Birds of Prey, Batwoman, Batgirl, Red Hood and the Outlaws, Batman: Odyssey, Huntress, Catwoman, Nightwing, and Batman Beyond Unlimited. Total cost of these 15 comics: approximately $62.
According to the Bank of Canada’s inflation calculator, something that cost 25 cents in 1975 should cost about a dollar now, all other things being equal. Of course, things are not equal; printing processes are different, labour costs are different, shipping and distribution and all that stuff are different. Let’s suppose it costs Marvel or DC twice as much now to create and ship a comic than it did in 1975, and they double the cover price as a result. That still only amounts to $2 apiece, but what they actually charge is usually about $4. People with pull lists at comic shops usually get a ten or 15% discount, so let’s be generous and say that a single issue costs about $3.50.
The problem is that single issue is not usually a self-contained, satisfactory story, but rather a chapter of the longer story, and if that story is six issues long, bam! You are paying $21 to read it, one way or the other, trade or floppy. Is it worth it? I would contend that it usually isn’t. If you are a Batman fan paying $55 a month to keep up with that franchise in comic books alone, that is over $600 a year for about 30 long, occasionally interconnected stories. Not a bad deal for DC; unlike a book in 1975, which might not even last for six issues in total depending on sales, they have trained the readers to jump on or off every six months instead of 1 or 2. Theoretically, being able to line up creative teams and editorial matters that far in advance should make for much better comics, but again I would contend that it doesn’t.
But hey, that’s me. If you are getting your money’s worth from the print comics racket, good! That’s how it should be. What I am wondering about now is digital comics: why do they often cost as much as print comics (that is, if you obtain them legally)? The obvious answer of course is that Marvel and DC don’t want to put 90% of comic shops out of business overnight. But really, There is no reason to price digital comics so high when so much of the overhead is no longer there: no paper or printing, no trucking or distribution. The talent still gets paid, the production people still get paid, and I assume it costs a little something to distribute comics digitally, but it has to be a fraction of physical distribution cost. And yes, I know that the publishers have sales from time to time, trial issues for 99 cents and so on; but in my opinion, even a dollar is too much.
Let’s do some math. Last year, the top selling comic of 2011 sold 231,000 copies according to comichron.com. The #10 selling comic sold half that. Most mainstream comics sell 25000 to 100,000 copies a month if they’re lucky. Unfortunately we don’t have sales data for 1975, but for the closest year we do have data (1969), the average monthly sales for all 53 titles published in that year was higher than 2011′s top-selling comic (the top 3 in 1969 were Archie, Superman and Superboy, with circulation around half a million copies a month apiece).
So what has happened between now and then? A lot, obviously, including complete changes in distribution, acquisition of publishers by major media corporations, higher standards overall; and of course kids are more quick to experience a story as a video game now than to walk into an Android’s Dungeon and try their luck spending $4 to jump into the middle. The people who buy floppies are most likely collectors, mostly male, aged late 20s to 40s and holding on to this medium for whatever reason. That’s cool. But you know what? DC and Marvel have those guys already. For the most part, they aren’t going anywhere. They will bitch and moan as their favourite characters get changed and redesigned and the comics issues renumbered and whatever else, but they are still in. They are a publisher’s favourite audience: the captive market.
Unfortunately, growth does not come from a captive market. Marvel has done a decent job with transforming even unlikely characters into reasonably successful films, and while DC cannot really say the same, they have done a hell of a job with animation. Some of the top grossing films of all time, and certainly in the last decade, are based on comics that were published before the business started to really go down the toilet in the 90s, financially speaking. So what happens to all those film and TV viewers? Do they go back to the source and start buying comics, the way that Game of Thrones viewers go out and buy George R.R. Martin’s books?
I doubt it. Or if they do, they find the one trade paperback that corresponds to the film they like (Batman: Year One, Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, V for Vendetta) and then stop, because they soon discover that those are the giants whose shoulders the rest of the industry has been standing on for a generation. So how do you convert those who want to believe? How do you encourage them to fill their time between movies with comics?
You drop the barrier to entry, and the biggest barrier in my opinion is price. Based on our stats above, let’s make a few quick calculations:
The #11 selling comic in 2011, Batman #3, sold 153,000 copies at about $4 apiece, for a gross revenue of $612,000. The cost of production, including editorial and promotion, probably amounts to about $22,000. I have no idea what shipping would cost, but for the sake of argument let’s say another $2000. That leaves $588,000 to divide up between the shops, distributors, and publisher. Again I have no idea what those shares amount to, so again for the sake of argument let’s say it’s a three-way split, which means that DC made a gross profit of $196,000 on that issue. (Industry people, if you do know what that split really is, please feel free to comment and I will adjust my numbers.) Note also that none of this includes advertising revenue, which in the print world could cover some of a comic’s production cost; much less so on the digital side I would think.
Now, suppose DC wanted to expand the fan base for Batman comics and get that book back to the level it was at in 1969, when it was selling an average of 355,000 copies a month. Suppose they decided to drop the price to what it was in 1975: 25 cents. Sure, they will probably take a bath on the book for a month or two, but 25 cents is a hard price point to resist, especially since readers could sample a lot of other comics at that price. Suddenly the $20 six-issue story arc costs $1.50. If they insist on continuing to publish 15 Bat-titles, a reader can get them all for $3.75 a month at a quarter apiece; the price of a single comic now. If they wanted to go really crazy they could offer subscription incentives, where if you commit to buying the book for a year, you get an Annual or some other exclusive goodie for free.
For the readers, this means they can afford to buy damn near everything else DC publishes and still come out ahead. And if DC gets those 355,000 readers for a digital Batman comic at that price, with more or less the same production costs but without shipping costs or sharing profits with Diamond Distribution or comic shops, how much would they make? A gross profit in excess of $64,000, with nearly 200,000 more readers. New readers. Young readers. And that is just at the beginning; unlike print, digital comics can hang around in inventory forever, so if someone hears about that Batman story arc five years later, they can call it up in the digital store and bam, another $1.50 for DC just like on the day it was published. Switching entirely to digital would mean a revenue hit at the individual title level, but it seems like a decent tradeoff to bring in that many more new readers and to defuse the digital graymarket.
Of course, in the real world DC and Warner brothers don’t want to take that kind of hit. And maybe it is optimistic to assume that that many more readers would flock to read the digital version of Batman. Suppose the comic is priced at a dollar instead; with the same production costs, DC would need to sell about 220,000 copies to match the profit estimated above for the print copy; about 70,000 more than the actual recent sales figure. I should also note here that DC’s numbers might be a little off when we consider that their “New 52″ initiative might be temporarily inflating sales for them.
I don’t want comic shops to close, and I don’t want people in the business to lose their jobs; but they will, and they are, because of the general decline of interest in comics. My friend Calum Johnston owns one of the best comic shops you will ever see, Strange Adventures in Halifax and Fredericton; he has been resourceful and adaptable and most importantly a tireless promoter of the medium, connecting people to the comics that are right for them. That is what will make a retailer successful even if the sales of new print comics go south. I think that the comic shops that survive the upcoming shift to digital will be like the record shops that survived the shift to MP3s: serving the collector market, dealing in merchandise as well as the back issues and rarities, selling RPGs and gaming supplies and shirts and figurines and Magic cards and whatever else helps make ends meet. Hell, they are halfway there now.
I am very excited by digital comics; for their potential as a force for levelling the field so that independent creators can be found and enjoyed as easily as anything published by a giant corporation. It hasn’t quite worked out the way that Scott McCloud predicted, with micropayments and such, but we are at the foothills of a challenging climb.
Director Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Lem Dobbs collaborated a dozen years ago on one of my favourite films, The Limey; an unusually thoughtful revenge film. Haywire dials up the action, introducing martial arts champion Gina Carano as a soldier for hire seeking revenge on her ex-boss. The supporting cast is impressive, including Michael Douglas, Ewen McGregor, Antonio Banderas, Michael Fassbender, and Channing Tatum.
Like The Limey, Haywire has a relentless through-line that is a pleasure to watch even if we know where it’s going. Carano is a solid leading presence and I hope she continues to find onscreen work if she wants it. Like many of Soderbergh’s other films, the camera travels through warm and lush locations. The score in parts is so similar to that of Soderbergh’s Solaris that I assumed the composers were the same, but they are not.
I do wonder if it is a bit unseemly that Carano’s nemesis is her ex-lover as well as her ex-employer, because it’s hard to imagine a film where that happens when the genders are reversed. Is it strength when Carano (or Zoe Saldana in Colombiana) is sexually aggressive onscreen, or is it just titillation? Can we really see a woman as an action hero the way that we see James Bond?
I hope so. I don’t think we are there yet, but if anyone can take us there, it might be Gina Carano.
On Saturday I wrote about how my desire for an iPad was reaching critical mass, and apparently those were truer words than I realized, because a few hours later I was sitting in the Montreal train station with my pants around my ankles and a new iPad in my hands. Actually, the terms weren’t that bad; not that I feel a need to justify it, frankly. I’ve only had it a day and I wonder what the hell I ever did without it. As I put it to one friend, it’s like an iPhone I can read.
I bought the 16GB Wi-Fi iPad 2, definitely a nice midrange device to put my phone back in the phone category and my Mac back in the work machine category while the iPad picks up the yoke of web browsing, short blog entries and other note-taking, messaging, email, playing music, whatever. My friend Anthony put it well today when he said that the MacBook is a great device for creating media; the iPad is a great device for consuming it. I don’t regret getting the Wi-Fi model, since Wi-Fi is pretty much everywhere I go and in the few places where it’s not, my phone can serve as a hotspot.
I find it a bit on the heavy side for reading books, but the smart cover folds up to make a nice angled stand. Speaking of, top tip: the box for the smart cover makes a dandy hardshell travel case. The book-reading experience itself is good so far, I read through some webcomic collections and browsed through some other stuff I had downloaded originally for the phone. I’m looking forward to seeing the potential for comics publishing.
That’s all I have to report for now, more to come I’m sure.