It is with mixed feelings that I inform the world (well, maybe not “the world” exactly–perhaps, “all three of you who are reading this” would be more apt) that the third issue of Midnight Sun will be arriving in comics shops this Wednesday, the 7th of February. I’m of course happy that the issue will be out, but this will also be the final “pamphlet” issue of the series.
The completed story will be appearing at the end of this year as a collected graphic novel, but the periodical series is, with the publication of issue three, finished. I’m of course really excited that the story will be appearing as a single bound edition, published by Slave Labor Graphics. That was indeed always the intended fruition of the project and if anything, ceasing the individual serialized chapters will speed up the production of the graphic novel, which is on the production schedule for a December 07 release.
Why no more single issues, though? The short answer is simply that they weren’t selling well enough. The first issues of the series, although well reviewed, had been hovering around the 1000 copies mark and, although I haven’t seen the numbers for issue three, I assume them to be well below the thousand mark. The thousand copies mark, is for those not involved in comics publishing, essentially the Mendoza line of the comics business. At a thousand you’re about breaking even; below that you’re losing money on a book–and by “you” I mean whomever’s publishing it–in this case SLG.
The long answer, though, is probably more complex.
For one thing, SLG seems to be at this point a publisher in transition. This is me speaking here as an outside observer, mind you, not in any official capacity–despite my obvious association with the company. SLG’s head honcho, Dan Vado, has said as much in a recent interview; they’re moving toward a model in which individual issues are “published” as downloads via eyemelt.com, then a trade paperback/graphic novel collection is released once there’s enough material–and Midnight Sun kinda got trapped in between models I think. It’s frankly not a surprising move when you consider that many–some say half even–of the comics shops in the U.S. don’t stock even a single indy title. (That being said, I’m sure if Midnight Sun were selling 5000 copies an issue, it’d still be worth doing in comic book format. Case in point: Titles like Emo Boy and Rex Libris will continue on as periodicals as far as I can tell, but the overlooked Screwtooth by Black Olive seems to be M.I.A.)
More broadly though, I’d been asked directly why I didn’t do the whole thing just a graphic novel to begin with, and I seem to recall a couple of reviews of the first issue that suggested that it’d be better suited in non-serialized format. My answer simply is, because I like the comic book format. I’m clearly just about the last indy cartoonist to jump on the graphic novel bandwagon, and in truth I guess I’m not really jumping so much as being thrown. That being said, I’m not complaining–I’m fortunate to be published at all–and I’ve been planning my next project as a self-contained GN from the get-go.
On the other hand, though, I’m sad to see the general fading of the comic book format (except for in the realm of superhero comics, where it seems to be going strong) for a number of reasons, not simply because my current series seems to be part of the fade-out.
The first reason is simply that serialized narrative and non-serialized narrative are different things, and in replacing one with the other, something is by definition lost. While serialized narrative hasn’t enjoyed the widespread popular appeal that it once did, it’s a venerable form that’s been used to great effect by writers from Charles Dickens to Stephen King.
There’s also a “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” aspect to the near-wholesale abandonment of the comic book format by indy creators. In an effort to distance ourselves from the popular stereotypes associated with the comic book format, we’re abandoning a format that’s unique to the art form. Only comic books look like comic books, and pretty much everyone can recognize something as being a comic book simply based on the shape and size of the publication. For better or for worse, It’s a powerful “brand identity” that lots of other art forms don’t have. While moving away from the format seems to be bearing some fruit in terms of the art form’s perceived respectability among the literati, I wonder how instrumental the chosen print format really has been in that change. To paraphrase the great Harvey Kurtzman, “When people start producing respectable comics, comics will be a respected art form.” (A side note though, is that the “digest”–aka “manga format” book seems to be taking on duties as the unique format identifier of the comics art form, and if it’s not already too closely associated specifically with Manga at this pont, I’m all in favor–especially since it’s bookstore friendly and a great price point at $10-$15 a volume.)
Finally, the whole idea of dressing up a less respected art form to give it the superficial apperance of a more respected one just has an air of desperation about it. I know that the book that is arguably the origin of this whole move to the GN fomat, MAUS, achived its widespread notoriety partially due to the author’s deliberate efforts to make the published work appear as much like a prose novel as possible, but the whole premise of this reminds me (as does pretty much eveyrthing according to my wife) of a Simpsons episode–the one in which a library is shown with a sign outside which reads “We Now Have Books About TV.”
All that rambling aside, I’ve gotta admit, though, in reference specifically to my own series, Midnight Sun, that there could hardly be a book that invites the old “I’ll wait for the trade paperback” policy than it does. It’s a limited series, non-superhero book by an independent publisher–Hell, I think I’d wait for the trade.
At any rate, Midnight Sun is still en route to comics shops–and now bookstores!–near you as a complete graphic novel, thanks to the good folks at Slave Labor Graphics. And for any of you sentimental old timers like me, you can pick up the final comic book issue this Wednesday. You better get it sealed in one of those crazy mylar boxes quick!