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Solstice 2012, plus comic book paper criticism

2012 December 21

It is vewwy vewwy quiet. This whole week has been quiet, as usual points of contact both personal and professional have presumably found their attentions increasingly absorbed by pre-Christmas business.

I had most of my Christmas prep completed a week ago, and finished up most of what remained early this week. Naturally, however, I found myself venturing out into the first snowstorm of the year twice today for last-minute errands. I am back safely, though, and snugged in to enjoy the remainder of the Solstice in peace and warmth.

I am also nearly ready to pack up and clear out of here for a long-overdue Christmas vacation. If this snow cooperates and tapers off enough by tomorrow morning. If not, I may find myself with an extra day and little else to do, and pass time writing more blog posts. Otherwise, this could be the last close-out dispatch until late next week, though either way I will probably return at least once during the calendrical appendix dangling between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

Meantime, semi-random observation for a snowy Friday afternoon… Bleeding Cool recently posted a semi-random little item of its own, by one Leif Kendall, about “Four Ways Image Make Marvel Look Bad.” The majority are design-related, too, in some sense: subtleties of cover design, ad presence, and most intriguingly, paper. Kendall writes that outside, “Image print stunning covers on thick paper,” and inside “Image print quality stories on quality paper. Marvel prefer to use flimsy paper for their comics.” And I have to say, this nearly gobsmacked me.

Granted, I don’t buy a lot of new comics these days; I honestly do not recall the most recent single-issue comic I purchased from Marvel or Image but it was very possibly more than a year ago in either case. The complaint about ads, for example, also puzzled me because the last time I looked, things like “a giant photo of a smirking goon eating instant pizza” had essentially vanished from the interior of everyone’s new comics, their places taken by house ads; presumably the ad market has recovered somewhat (which seems largely positive to me).

Still, if I’m not completely au courant with the newest issues, I do have a longer-term perspective going back a whole quarter-century without even counting purchases of earlier back issues. And in that context, I can’t help reading something like “Marvel use flimsy paper” and mysteriously turning into the late Harold Macmillan for a moment. You’re complaining about cheap paper in new comic books? Cheap paper? You cannot know what cheap paper is! “You’ve never had it so good!”

I mean, good grief! I recall years ago one or another prominent British writer describing the material of comics from his early 1960s youth as “bog paper;” I didn’t realize at the time quite how low he was rating its quality with that phrase, but it didn’t mean anything particularly good. I’ve not handled a lot of comics from those days, myself, and things had improved somewhat by the 1980s, but comics were still printed on newsprint. It was a bit less sandpaper-textured and a bit less prone toward immolating itself with its own acid content, but it was still cheap, disposable paper. Never mind that computer coloring didn’t exist yet; coloring had to be simple and heavy-handed, anyway, because more complex and delicate effects would likely turn into mud. You might have a drawing of “a smirking goon eating instant pizza,” but advertisers were only just starting to experiment with photography on the interior pages.

Since the turn of the century, however, things could scarce be more different. Some of the change is down to computer technology, and some to better printing presses, but most of the protean Technicolor extravaganza which the modern comics audience takes for granted would not be possible without vastly upgraded paper stock. Which just about every publisher has made standard.

And yet someone moans about “flimsy paper” and thin cover stock? Personally, I’ve got a few Image comics with their cardstock-weight covers and I kind of find them annoying, but I can see that as a matter of taste. As for interior paper, however, publishers are providing you a glorious, bright white coated canvas, on every page, such as would have seemed a miracle from the gods scarcely a generation ago.

I certainly do not believe that this by itself constitutes unimpeachable evidence of good value. I was indeed just the other day ripping Marvel for how poorly their corporate-authored product compares with the Weapon Brown epic serialized online for free by a one-man operation. As I noted, though, the one area in which they can claim a clear advantage is color, which is dazzling as a matter of course. Which is possible because they print on relatively amazing, super-empowered paper as a matter of course. I have a low opinion of Marvel and its products these days, and have no argument with anyone who wants to criticize them, but to nitpick about their choice of paper out of all the other areas in which they are actually, objectively rubbish… really?

I suppose, though, one should never underestimate the comics fan’s capacity to find pretext for peeing and moaning about something, no matter what the circumstances.

2 Responses
  1. December 28, 2012

    Dude, speaking as someone who every week unpacks and sorts the week’s deliveries for the store I work in, we’re guaranteed to lose a minimum dozen Marvel comics every week to damage, and the ones that make it to the racks are doubly vulnerable to careless browsing hands. I still feel pathetic grousing about it, but its a tangible reduction of quality. If they were priced universally at a $2.50 maximum price point, and intended for disposability, I wouldn’t mind, but at $3.99 and so many people hunting issues for collection and speculation?

  2. Matt permalink
    December 29, 2012

    Thanks so much for stopping by to comment!

    From the end-reader perspective, I still feel like the paper is relatively fantastic. (The overall value of a typical new Marvel single is awful, in my opinion, but that has more to do with the content than the paper).

    But from the retailer’s perspective that you describe, it sounds like very legitimate grousing, to me! Let the record stand corrected.

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