Sporadic Sequential
Monday, June 22, 2009
Gee, Thanks for the Just As Expensive, Smaller Hardcover, Fantagraphics

Click to Palomar-size!

Although I suppose the additional 75+ pages are a small consolation. And the smaller size is actually easier to handle when reading. OK, you win this round, Fantagraphics, but what's this about me having to buy an even smaller softcover book to really get the whole Luba story? (And wait a second: floppies??? Gah, Fantagraphics' format fluidity is even worse than Bandai's!!)

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Monday, June 08, 2009
Gee, Thanks for the More Expensive, Lower Quality Manga, Tokyopop

Back in April I was wondering what readers would get for the extra dollar they'd be spending on Tokyopop manga titles. At the time, I fantasized about Tokyopop following DC's example and having backup features in each book. I realized such a bonus was unlikely, writing: "I'm assuming the price increase won't be accompanied by any additions to the manga volumes, like better paper stock or color inserts." Boy, how right I was. In fact, not only are there no added perks to offset the price hike, but Tokyopop went the other direction and gave us shoddier production values that cost more.

Comparing Sgt. Frog 17 to the previous volume, I noticed the following declines in quality:
  1. Cheaper, thinner paper stock.
  2. No glossy color pages at the beginning.
  3. No more shiny "metallic ink" cover.
  4. Sloppy editing / quality control standards.
Item 2 isn't as big a deal as I first thought it was. Looking back, only half of the previous sixteen volumes had color inserts in the front; it probably felt like more because the previous two volumes had color pages, so my working impression was that all the earlier volumes did. The third reduction doesn't really matter to me: The shiny, metallic cover was missing on the previous volume as well and I never even noticed at the time. And I really only noticed one example of defect #4 that I remember, page number 57 occurring twice, once on the actual page 57 and again ten pages later on page 67.

For me, the first flaw is the most critical. Complaining about paper quality might seem nitpicky, but it was noticeable right away, as soon as I grabbed the book out of the shipping box. The book felt flimsy. It also felt thinner, something confirmed by placing it next to an earlier volume of the series:

According to Amazon, the page count of these two volumes is the same.

The cheaper (ha!) paper also affected my reading experience: I noticed several spots where I was distracted by details from the opposite side visible through the page I was reading. The below scan gives a pretty good indication of what this looks like:

Click to Super-Snow-Keroro-size!

Compare that scan with one from the previous volume. (I generally touch up scans a bit to improve the contrast, but the scan from volume 17 was unsalvageable using my usual tweaks.)

I don't know if the combination of price increase plus decreased product quality will be enough to cause me to drop the book, but it's certainly not helping. Has anyone else noticed this with other Tokyopop titles? Is this a one time fluke or Tokyopop's new cost-cutting direction?

UPDATE: I always forget to use Google to see if others are noticing the same things I'm complaining about. Here's a thread at Anime News Network where several posters complain about the same problems with other Tokyopop series. And one poster quotes a Tokyopop rep as explaining:
I understand your concern. Paper, printing, freight has increased in price over the past ten plus years we have been in business. One of our competitors announced last week that they are raising prices higher than we did. We felt in order to keep the price of our manga down, we would change paper and only incease the average price by only 1 dollar. The other paper we used has not only increased in the cost but is getting harder to get. Sorry if there are spelling errors. I'm home sick and I'm usung my Bberry. Thanks, Allyson
I know what's she's trying to say and I feel like a jerk for mocking something someone wrote while sick, but I love the juxtaposition of "in order to keep the price of our manga down" ...we decided to raise prices. Oh, and print them on crappier paper. Corporate double-speak for the win!!

Another poster quotes something a TP Associate Publisher supposedly wrote over on Amazon:
I wanted to address a few of the comments on this thread. The paper we had been using prior to the stock you're discussing was only available from one mill, and suffice it to say, this didn't offer us a lot of flexibility with negotiating scheduling, pricing, etc., so we've been exploring other options. The new paper is different, of course, as you noted - our current printer let us know that other graphic novel publishers are inquiring about and using this paper, too. Now we are in the process of gathering feedback from consumers and other partners, and I appreciate all the candid comments as we assess its future. (BTW, our cover stock has not changed - it's still 10pt C1S - but perhaps the different paper gives it that impression.)
It also turns out that this was something the eagle-eyed Johanna Draper Carlson spotted in one of her reviews way back in February:
On another note, I haven’t checked out a Tokyopop volume in the past few months, and I was very surprised to note that the price of this volume has gone up (books this size used to be $9.99) while the quality has gone down. The newsprint-like paper feels cheap and unsubstantial, and it looks muddy. The resulting product seems unsubstantial and is unpleasant to read.
Reminder: Next time, do the Google research before wasting time writing your own redundant post.

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Thursday, June 04, 2009
This Will All End In Tears, Won't It?

Continuing to track the ongoing issues plauging Nexus, here's the latest update via email (couldn't find it anywhere on Rude's sites):
We just received word from TransContinental (our printer in Canada) that Nexus: As it Happened V1 is printed, boxed, and ready to ship, but they want payment in full before they'll ship. We're $2,200 short so Steve dug up some more pages. We're also $4,000 behind on mortgage, so we're making an open offer to anyone interested in making a reasonable offer on any of the paintings that we currently have for sale.
Ah, crap. So the book is ready to ship to stores but first the publisher needs to be paid in full. And the Rudes are short the cash, so they're putting up even more of Rude's original artwork to help raise the money (not just so they can pay to get the book out to comic shops but also so they can pay their mortgage, which they're behind on). Unfortunately, this raises the possibility that the book will miss its scheduled release date of 6/16 (6/17?) despite everything the Rudes have done to get it out on time. I guess this is what Jaynelle meant when she said the low order numbers (1,200) didn't even cover the costs of printing the book.

Man, this just depresses me. I don't mean to turn this blog into a full-time fundraiser for Steve Rude, but if you can afford to help out, check out the paintings and other merchandise at his online store. Rude is also offering several new pages from Nexus: Wages of Sin #1 for pre-sale before he puts them up on his eBay store for auction later today.

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Wednesday, June 03, 2009
On The Dude, Delays, and The Direct Market

More thoughts on Steve Rude's announcement that he plans to focus on painting rather than putting out comics:

In the comments here and at Robot 6, a common refrain is that delays hurt the book. I was wondering how delays impacted the book, but I couldn't remember details. Searching through my emails for old DudeNews newsletters, I found repeated references to delays with Nexus (many of those same announcements are also available on Rude's site, so I tried to link to those entries where I could). Just looking at Nexus #100, it looks like it suffered from several scheduling problems:
  1. As far as I can tell, Nexus #100 was originally solicited back in June 2007 for a September 2007 release.
  2. However, in September 2007, an update announced that Nexus #100 would be pushed back to a January 2008 date. (Ironically, the note also states: "And why the decision to resolicit? Because it’s going to buy us the time to send out all three issues without delay. Month after month, as originally intended.")
  3. In January of 2008, it was announced that the book was being further delayed until February due to "an increased page count beyond what was originally solicited [and] more extra features to make Nexus 100 a truly momentous event."
  4. Finally, in early February 2008, a notice was posted informing fans that the book was being delayed one last time until the end of the month due to an unacceptably muddly print job on the book.
So a near six-month delay in getting out issue #100, and that doesn't account for the gaps between #99 (July 2007) and #101/102 (due out in July 2009). As one commenter put it, "[that's] two years for four issues of what had been scheduled as a monthly book."

Digging through my emails, I also found this, which I couldn't find anywhere on Rude's site or blog, so I'll just reproduce it here:

April 2009 Dude News

For everyone who's stuck out the past year waiting for the Nexus series to finally be completed -- THANK YOU. It's been a rough few years.

To try and answer some questions that came up during the survey that we recently sent out...

Q: I wish Dude well with painting, I hope it does well for him. But it's frustrating to wait years between new Nexus stories. I get frustrated when I see so much attention and time being put into the painting, and (apparently) less so into Nexus, which is such a wonderful creation. Charge me ten bucks an issue if you need to, I'll gladly pay.

A: Steve has been concentrating on producing, unfortunately, he has been hit with some serious medical conditions over the past few years which have hampered his ability to work a normal work day. That was our main reason for deciding to combine the final 2 issues into 1 and also wait until both were completed until soliciting or giving a release date. We are thrilled to announce that Nexus 101/102 will be released mid-July.

Q: Ok, here's my honest opinion. Please, STOP working on paintings, sketchbooks, custom sketches, prints, etc - and make some COMICS! I love Steve's work, but I'm not wealthy, and what I can afford most are comics. But with only 2 issues of Nexus since the relaunch, I keep wondering WHY such effort goes into all this other stuff. Please, draw comics!

A: Steve has little to do with the prints and sketchbooks. He hasn't done any new paintings outside of covers and the custom sketches..well, without them we would currently be in foreclosure. He has limited the sketches to Monday and Tuesday only. His health is so uncertain that he produces what he can. I can say that we've seen dramatic improvement in the past few months and we can only pray that it continues.

I tried to be the main bread winner, but after 2 years of working 80+ hour weeks on top of taking care of Steve and the kids I was heading for a complete breakdown.

These canvas prints are a way to (hopefully) keep our mortgage paid and Steve concentrating on Nexus without any extra work. The company we hooked up with prints on demand, has a 100% satisfaction guaranteed policy, we order only what we have already sold, and they take care of framing/shipping.
Again, getting a glimpse into the life of a struggling comic artist breaks my heart. I'm reminded of all the stories about Golden Age and Silver Age greats who struggled to make ends meet later in life. Jaynelle Rude's patient updates also point out another issue that contributed to the delays with Nexus: Steve Rude's health issues. This email doesn't get into specifics, but in a comment on one of the delay update posts Jaynelle mentions that Rude "battles depression and oftentimes the medication leaves him too tired to work" and that "he’s been battling fatigue due to a thyroid medication he was put on." Rude himself stops by to add "[t]he reason for Nexus #100’s tardiness is due entirely to myself" explaining, "I have mental health issues that have all but sabotaged my once 'normal' state. I’ve dealt with this condition most of my adult life and can only hope that this state will repair itself in time."

So I understand that fans can lose interest in a series that comes out infrequently, but I hope that fans understand that many factors can interfere with a comic's publishing schedule. It would be one thing if Rude were drawing a steady paycheck from Marvel and DC and simply not turning in his work. But I think it's a very different situation when a creator is self-publishing a book as a labor of love. And it's even further removed when health issues enter the picture. When a creator has to choose between looking out for his health (not to mention his family's well-being) and getting a comic out on time, it's no contest.

I'm still wondering if self-publishing isn't part of the problem due to being shoved to the back of the Previews catalog where many retailers and fans may never venture. Again, I can understand how delays would hurt the momentum of a (supposedly monthly) serialized book. But Nexus: As it Happened Vol. 1 is a more stand-alone product and preorders for that were only 1,200. That puts it in the range of the latest Spider-Girl collection and an Iron Man & Power Pack book. Really? Only 1,200 people were interested in an affordable collection of early Baron and Rude Nexus? Heck, I have all these issues already but I'm eager to have them in a more convenient and readily available format. Is the problem promotion? Awareness? The overall Direct Market system? Or maybe (and I hate to consider this) that's all that's left of the fanbase for Nexus so many years later? Searching through ICv2's sales estimates, I only find one ranking for Dark Horse's Nexus Archives series, and that was for volume one back in December 2005. The estimated preorders for that book? 1,301. Are all of us Nexus fans simply buying the same material over and over again while hoping that others will somehow magically discover and fall in love with the series?

As much as I love Nexus, maybe it would be better off in the long run (for everyone involved) if Rude branched out to other material when he returns to comics in the "direct-to-trade" format in the future. Or maybe if Rude doesn't want to change the subject matter he could alter the format: I wonder if online serialization could work for Nexus? Maybe it would help Rude, a self-proclaimed perfectionist, to post work in smaller chunks for feedback. He could do it as his leisure while still doing his painting to make a living. And he could always clean up the serialized work for the eventual collection if he wanted to.

Anyway, who knows what would work best for Nexus? Rude and various publishers have tried different things over the years and nothing seems to have worked out 100%, so who am I to play armchair expert? Whatever path Rude decides to take in the future, I look forward to supporting him and his work. Best of luck to you and your family, Dude!

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Tuesday, June 02, 2009
Part of the Problem; Hopefully Also Part of the Solution

Here's some sad news from a favorite creator of mine. I received this in my email this morning from Steve Rude, which I'll reproduce in full for those of you not on the Dude's newsletter mailing list:


The numbers for the last two books are in and they don't look good. We have been told that Nexus: As it Happened V1 will reach Diamond by the 9th which should be in time for the 13th in stores date. Around June 16th we will receive our Diamond order for 101/102.

Steve has only the cover to 101/102 to complete then the artwork is complete for all of the books as he inadvertently did the trade paperback cover before the 101/102 cover.

Steve is then turning his focus to gallery paintings. Steve is a brilliant artist and we've been living hand to mouth for the past 3 years. Losing over $5,000 in the last 2 printings we have been unable to pay our mortgage have have no desire to lose our house.

Steve does plan to continue in comics putting out a book direct to trade every few years and using gallery painting as a means to finance his comic endevors.

Thank you to everyone who has supported us by ordering commissions or purchasing artwork.

It bums me out to think of a dedicated comic pro losing money and not being able to pay his mortgage due to pursuing his dream of putting out comics. Luckily, Rude is able to support himself through other means, but it's a bummer to think that an incredible talent and industry legend like Rude isn't able to make a living via comics. I don't know if self-publishing was part of the problem, if that made it less likely for fans and retailers to see or order his work if it wasn't up at the front of the Previews catalog under one of the major comic publishers?

Reading this letter, I felt a twinge of guilt. I love Rude's work, but I wasn't buying the singles because I preferred to wait for the trade. Rude never badgered readers into buying the singles; in fact, he was always up-front about the fact that a trade paperback collection of the "Space Opera" storyline would be available soon after serialization was complete. Still, I feel a little like those Shojo Beat boosters who were sad to see the magazine fold but never subscribed to it themselves. But despite my regret, I continue to believe that customers should only buy material they enjoy in the format of their preference. For me, that continues to be the collected book format. I happily preordered Nexus: As it Happened Vol. 1 and I plan to buy future TPB collections of Nexus, so I'm glad to hear that Rude continues to publish in that format even if it means long waits in between volumes.

If you have the means, consider ordering something directly from Rude's own online store. Many of the items have been marked down, and there's free domestic shipping on orders order $40 and international orders over $125. There are even digital (PDF) comics for only 99 cents each! I'm thinking I'm going to have to start saving up for a commissioned sketch. I'd love to see Rude actually illustrate my Nexus / Mr. Miracle fanfic team-up idea, or maybe one of the other fantasy crossovers I've had bouncing around in my skull for decades...

UPDATE 6/3: The news has also been posted on Rude's MySpace blog and in the comments Rude's wife Jaynelle, posting as Rude, reiterates: "while Steve is switching his focus [it] doesn't mean that he's leaving comics all together. It just means that instead of having comics be his main profession and gallery painting as a hobby he's going to have to switch to having his gallery painting support his comic endeavors."

UPDATE #2 6/3: Posting again in the comments of Rude's blog, Jaynelle Rude provides the order numbers for Nexus: As it Happened Vol. 1: "We only had orders for 1,200 and needed 1,600 to finance the printing. We lowered the print run to 3,000 copies and if we can sell out then we'll continue with #2." If you didn't preorder the book from your shop and are still interested in it, it's available directly from Rude's online store for $9.99 or through TFAW for only $7.99. It's due out on 6/16.

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