ORDER UP! - October and beyond...

posted Aug 28, 2011, 8:15 AM by The Comics Journeyman
It's deadline week, and I'm going through the monthly ritual of picking the comic books that I am pre-ordering. This experience has been greatly improved over the past couple years by our friends over at comiXology, who have done wonderful things to put the monthly Diamond Previews catalog online in a way where a consumer such as myself can browse and transmit my order to my retailer on a near-real-time basis.

All you need is an account with comiXology (it's free), and to then associate your account with a retailer (Fantom Comics is a great choice, as we service customers at our physical store in Union Station DC, as well as mail order customers. See our instructions page for getting connected). So go ahead and sign up, even if you would only want to order one comic book a month, or you can order re-printings of the comics you remember from your youth in graphic novel form. The staff at Fantom can make plenty of excellent recommendations depending on your tastes.

So each month, after the catalog is fully uploaded into the comiXology site, I log into my account and browse the catalog. Now, while it's much easier to do than in the old days, when you needed a physical catalog and a retailer-provided piece of paper to make your picks, it's still a bit of a slog. Here's how I go about it.

In the top left corner of all comiXology pages, there's a banner that says "Previews Catalog", along with a month and year denotation. Click on that, and you will be brought to the main catalog page. Remember, we're ordering in advance here, so my picks at the end of August will generally start showing up in stores (and some now online!) starting in October. And there's a LOT of product to consider - 1,773 items in this month's catalog, and it's about the same size every month. So to stay current and keep up with the latest in comic books and graphic novels, as a fan you have to do some serious homework each month. Fantom Comics does a great job each month of summarizing the catalog via its monthly newsletter, but in reality they can barely scratch the surface. Here's a link to this month's email newsletter so you can see what I'm talking about.

Diamond Comics does an okay job with their PreviewsWorld site, but it's designed a bit more for the retailer than the consumer. For the "cultured" consumer, I recommend going straight to the Departments sections to see what's being recommended by the Diamond Staff, the Certified Cool section is a great resource, and some of the other sections are helpful in keeping your bearings when navigating through the monthly catalog. But by the time most fans are ready to make their picks for a given month, PreviewsWorld has already moved on to the next month's catalog, which can be frustrating.

The folks at Diamond and comiXology and all the other previews sites in the world make everything look real tempting and worth trying out. But let's face facts. 1) There is an awful lot of product, and 2) We can't buy everything. And even if us fans did have unlimited financial resources, we wouldn't have the time to read everything without giving up some other aspect of our lives (like our day jobs!). So we have to make some difficult decisions about which books to pull when they first come out as floppies, and which ones to tradewait on, and which graphic novels and hardcover new releases and reprints to invest in. This is tough stuff!

All of that is to say "Here's how I do it". Ideally, I would like to be able to browse the catalog by creator, because that is essentially how I make my decisions. There are a core group of featured creators whose work I have read in the past, and when those guys and girls come out with a book, I'm pulling those as a first priority (provided it's not a super-hero book, and all of the folks I'm referring to have put out at least one thing that fits that bill in the past). I've been assembling a list of these folks who I am following on Twitter, if you would like to see who has attained "auteur" status in my mind. But while comiXology has moved in this direction in their online store and various apps, they haven't added that feature to their catalog browsing capabilities. I'm guessing they will add it at some point, although it will probably make for a looooooong drop-down list.

To achieve peak efficiency in reviewing the comiXology catalog, my experience has led me to use the "View Only" browsing feature. This allows the user to focus in on one particular type of product at a time, and I can skip right by categories that I'm not interested in such as DVDs, action figures, busts, games, etc. Other folks might want to browse by publisher, but I'm an equal opportunity browser, so I would have to go through all of the publishers anyway. But either way, you need to drill into an item's detail page in order to figure out who the creative team is on a given book, so it's a lot of clicking and then back-clicking. But once you find something you like, you can either just click either Pull or Subscribe. If you are a Fantom Comics customer, for instance, Fantom will order that book for you (either one-time or every time that series is published) and hold it in a special folder with your name on it until you stop by the store to pick it up. Or they will mail it to you if you prefer.

So enough of that, I just wanted to get that out there to support what I hope to be a monthly blog summarizing my picks by product category. Here's my picks for this month's catalog (deadline for getting your picks submitted is Wednesday, 8/31).

These are the single issues that cost $2.99 to 4.99 per issue generally. I focus on the following 3 categories in the comiXology catalog: Comic, Limited Series, and One-Shot

This is one of the heaviest sections, clocking in at 439 items (although many of these are variant cover editions of the same books). These are planned as ongoing series, with no definitive end in sight (until the sales numbers dip, that is).
  • Snarked - This is all ages friendly, by Roger Langridge who did the Muppet Comic Book recently.
  • Rachel Rising - By the great Terry Moore (Strangers In Paradise), I can't believe I missed this when it was first solicited! Hopefully I can catch up.
  • Pope Hats - Caught my eye, has an indie feel to it. Set in Toronto. Writer/artist Ethan Riley has won some Canadian awards.
  • Xenoholics - Alien abduction, government conspiracy, and a funky look about it.
  • Cold War - New series by John Byrne, who I have yet to read. He gets writer/artist/colorist credits, which always impresses me.
  • Vertigo Resurrected: The Eaters - I've enjoyed previous Vertigo Resurrected titles Finals and Johnny Double, so as long as they keep serving these up, I'll continue to read 'em.
  • Dark Shadows - A little nostalgia as we get ready for the upcoming Dark Shadows movie. I used to watch the TV show, interested to check out the comic book. I didn't commit to a subscription on this though.
This section is a great place to search for things that have a definitive beginning and end in mind when the creator starts out. It's also easy to miss if you are not looking for it. Any big events from Marvel and DC like "Fear Itself" and "Flashpoint" will show up in this section, mixed in with other things I'm currently following like Scott Snyder's "Severed" and the Ed Brubaker / Sean Phillips series "Criminal" and the Matt Fraction series "Casanova". I usually just search through this section for #1 issues so I can jump on board at the beginning of a series (which would be another great filter for comiXology to add).
  • Bonnie Lass - a new 4 issue series, looks like a comicy lady pirate tale
  • Casanova: Avaritia - This is the 3rd LS by Matt Fraction with alternating artists, brothers Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba. Looks like it's Ba's turn this time. Brilliant hilarity, futuristic James Bond style.
This is generally a short category, with not too many titles. But I do like to dive into each detail record to make sure I'm not missing any of my favorite creators. Only 8 in this month's catalog, nothing caught my eye.

These come in hardcover and softcover, at price points generally between $15 and $25. In this section, I focus on the following 4 categories: Graphic Novel, Hard Cover, Soft Cover and Trade Paperback

This category is fraught with risk. It's usually softcover books that are not part of a larger series, although it's not fully clear on how Diamond differentiates between graphic novel and soft cover. Presumably it is at the publisher's discretion, based on their marketing strategy. 

This month we have 82 titles, a good portion of which are Manga titles that I personally don't follow very much, and the rest are generally items that look potentially great, but their pull numbers are very weak. Most have 0 or 1 pulls, meaning they're not nearly as likely to be advance ordered by fans or retailers. Independent publishers Fantagraphics and Top Shelf do consistent business in this category, but none of the larger publishers are present here. Lots of things looked interesting here, but nothing caught my eye enough to place a bet.

We are seeing more and more hardcovers lately, and at some better price points. All things being equal, we would rather buy hardcover books because of their durability. But this category contains a mixed bag of books.
  • Hark! A Vagrant - By writer/artist Kate Beaton of the New Yorker and other places. I've not read her work before.
  • Best American Comics Vol. 2011 - An anthology of the best. I've still yet to buy and read one of these, but if I'm to continue this Comics Journeyman charade, then it's about time I start.
  • MetaMaus - Not exactly sure what I'll be getting with this one, but I'm curious. By Art Spiegelman, and will offer some further insights into his classic Holocaust-with-mice-and cats tale Maus.
This is a light category with a mix of all sorts of things, from non-fiction and biography, as well as how-to-draw books, art books, books about comic books, some reprints, and essay books. 
  • Health Care Reform - A history from the Massachusetts health care reform law, from one of its architects, to the passing of Obamacare. Why am I interested? Don't ask.
  • Two Generals - Cover to this one looks great. Canadian military story of the allied invasion of Normandy.
These are also softcover books (confusing!), but they are generally volumes of a larger ongoing series. That makes this a very important category. Again, I focus my search for Volume 1s on books that I've been tradewaiting on. This month I jumped onto:
  • Baltimore: The Plague Ships - By Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden. Never jumped onto Hellboy and the many books it spawned, but I loved Mignola's Chimichanga and I missed the floppies when Baltimore first came out.
  • Who Is Jake Ellis? - Nathan Edmonson did a signing at our Union Station store after the comic had been out a while, so I've had this trade on my radar since then.
So that's my methodology, along with my picks from the August catalog of stuff that will be on sale starting in October. Check back next month for more incessant rambling about the challenges of both staying current with comics and catching up on all I've missed during my long hiatus. In the meantime, go read some comic books!!

The Comics Journeyman