Monday, September 15, 2003

Late night Sunday Wittering, basically. (No Unman, no Zigo.)

There's a New York Times piece about Karen Berger and Vertigo that's just gone up, which also talks about Endless Nights. It's a pretty good article. The only bit that left me scratching my head was the statement that Endless Nights has received a first printing of 100,000 copies, the biggest of any DC or Vertigo offering. For Vertigo, the release is more than an expensive bet on a single graphic novel; it is a crucial marketing gambit to introduce prospective readers to the rest of its line.

Which, for a business column seems to miss the idea that graphic novels are basically printed to order, and that that's also the same first printing that, for example, The Wolves in the Walls had. Nobody's gambling on anything; there's no crucial marketing gambit to attract people to read Vertigo titles. They've simply printed enough to fulfill initial orders with a few left over so they can keep selling books without having immediately to go back to press. (It's also not the biggest hardcover printrun in DC's history. That was Grant and Dave's Arkham Asylum, which did about quarter of a million copies in hardcover.)

What's interesting about the article, though, is the huge growth in the percentage of the books going out through bookstores and not comics shops.

I spoke to one comics retailer at San Diego who explained that he simply didn't order the high ticket items (Endless Nights is $25) because if they don't sell, he's stuck with the books, so he'd rather put the effort into selling comics. He was also complaining that bookstores now sell manga and graphic novels, and, later, that there wasn't enough of a profit in selling individual comics to cover the overheads in his store. My pointing out that his profit on selling ten graphic novels was the same as on selling a hundred comics was not amazingly well-received.

I probably wasn't as sympathetic as I should have been, but then, a lot of my favourite kind of comics shop are places like Page 45 in Nottingham which are primarily graphic novel shops, and which also (and often enthusiastically) sell monthly comics....


So, at Scott McCloud's urging, I spent 50 cents from my Bitpass account on Wary Tales at, several twisted fairy tales by some smart and talented young creators. I enjoyed it, although I've been more impressed by the individual work being done by the gang responsible -- for example, is a webcomic called Return to Sender by Vera Brosgol, who so needs to get back to work on the story. (The girl scout cookie sequence is probably my favourite bit.) is Jen Wang's page -- she has a beguiling art-style and a webcomic that desperately needs some sort of easy way to get to the next page.

One of my favourite online strips is Scott McCloud's marvellous, heartbreaking SOMNIVORE.


According to Bill Gibson's blog, he's retired from the blogging business to go and write a novel. I understand how he feels.

It was from Bill's blog that I discovered the babelizer, which runs text through many translation programs until it breaks down into deep nonsense.

"Nicholas Was..." my 100 word "Drabble" short story came out like this (222 words long, oddly enough):

There is Nicholas.. But of the luck, this mountain lowered of anh one much period of
report/ratio, of that a crime, extended and a white man is, to that he consolidates. It dies, time.
Towards her thing the fact that, you monopolize
the language with which twittering, in the addition of elaborated, when one is cutting, you work, does not say in this diminutivo
of the plant to person in the lodging of the zone to perforate of the Poland of the north this language, only ess the donkey of anh? Drawn towards outside and include/understand ordered that he you do not assume same, you, he era, produced of recent.
For the company of the indicated school of this anniversary that this field is lacked, the protests, the obligation of internal and the extreme night of Wuhan sobbed. The shout Or of this person during the night, will
be infinite and will be lacked the internal protest, to the interior
of the complete noises of the anniversary, when it eats and he exijiu.
Rappresentazione that sees it in the side of the side of the base, does not know.
The dream of the boy, congeals of the hour. You send Prometheus and Loki,
Sisyphus and Judas. This punishment is more of the one than the
maximum. I have. I have. I have.

I tried it several times and got a different version each time. Have fun rendering your favourite text incomprehensible...


Does the London Underground umbrella really exist and if so, where can I get one!!! I'm obssessed with the underground and that umbrella I must have! :) Thanks.

Yes, it exists, or it used to. There's probably somewhere that sells souvenirs of London on the web, or failing that you'll need to go to a tourist souvenir shop in London, or strike up an online friendship with someone who travel there on your behalf and find a London Underground Map umbrella...

(on the other hand, they may have stopped doing them, and replaced them by these...)

Hey Neil...
I'm sure you're aware of the Green Man Review, if only because Will Shetterly is on staff over there. Somebody (me, actually) has finally gotten around to reviewing some of The Sandman. The rest will be turning up in subsequent issues.
Partially I'm sending you this because I thought you might like to know, and partially because I thought it might be interesting to get your take on a couple of things about reviews, and this seemed connected.
This week, a friend and I attended a reading by Vindela Vida, who is also a editor (I think) for the review magazine "The Believer." In response to a question from my friend, Ms. Vida said that she didn't think books ought to be reviewed by people those specific books "aren't for." While I could see this for a genre work, where a reviewer needs to understand what theoretically ought to be happening to be able to tell if its doing it well or not, the question was about Ms. Vida's book. Since this is "modern fiction" and supposedly meant to be accessable to nearly anyone, we were a bit confused. So the questions are: Who do you think ought to review books (in particular, not in general)? What type of person would you prefer review your books? How much should a reviewer's knowledge about a writer's life influence a review, and how much of that sould be included in a review? (Apparently, reviews of Ms. Vida's work standardly mention that she's married to Dave Eggers well before anything actually pertaining to the work itself.)
Between being a new reviewer for GMR and the conversation my friend and I had about the whole thing afterwards, these questions are rolling around in my head.

I tend to think that the job of a reviewer and the job of a critic are two very different things, and the job of a reviewer is a pretty simple one, or it was when I did it. It's to read the book, and then to write something that says This is what this thing is. If you're the kind of person who likes this sort of thing then this is something you will/won't like.

If you hate all SF on principle, then there's precious little point you reviewing an SF novel. If you hate all "modern fiction" as a matter of course, and would no more read it than swallow castor oil, then you probably aren't going to be able to write an informed review that would let someone who does like it know whether or not she or he would have liked the book you just, grudgingly, read.

Of course, it's rarely that simple in real life. And many readers just like good books, whatever shelves they're on.

(The job of a critic -- a real critic, not just a reviewer who uses a few long words, or has 2000 words to fill instead of 200 -- is to illuminate the work you read. A good critic should make you want to go back and read whatever they're talking about again -- even if they are tearing it apart -- because you want to see it through their eyes. A good critic hands you a key to a book you thought you understood, and gives you a way of reading it.

Some reviewers are also critics.)

And it's sometimes enlightening to read and to write about books that "aren't for" you. When I was a journalist, I was assigned to read and write an article on all the romantic mega-blockbusters of the early 80s, and was astonished and delighted to discover that they all had the plots of classic fairy tales. I'd never have read them of my own free will, nor would I have read them in enough quantity to realise that this is Cinderella, while that one was practically Snow White...

The best book review column I ever had was about four years of "review books that look interesting from the publisher's catalogues or anywhere else, and it's 1800 words a month". To this day I have no idea what the readers made of it, but I learned an amazing amount about areas of fiction and non-fiction I hadn't thought I'd like until I read them.

Not sure if that answers your question, or if it's just something else to roll around in your head.

a nice quick one for ye. just wondering if you have ever tried doing Scott Mclouds '24 hour comic' challenge? i'd truely like to see what you'd produce under such circumstances.



I was one of the first, such that the Gaiman variant is considered a legitimate noble way to fail (you aren't going to make 24 pages in 24 hours, so you wrap it up anyway...). It's an autobiographical piece, online here, at and was the last thing of any length I drew...