Song & Dance

Today, Ryan Holmberg is back with a longer look at the comics rental libraries of Mumbai:

Upon publishing the interview with Leaping Windows Comics Café, I was informed by an elder Indian that rental bookstores – locally called “circulating libraries” – are not uncommon in Mumbai. There used to be more, I was told, but there are still some out in the suburbs, though they deal mainly in books in Hindi and Marathi (the local language) rather than in English.

Online searching turned up more than a dozen scattered across Greater Mumbai, some of which are actually in the heart of the city, near railway stations and major intersections. These latter seem to be mainly older businesses, hanging on since the 1950s and 60s. I am also told that, out in the suburbs, a number of “paper marts” – paper recycling shops – have begun doubling as lending libraries, redirecting not only junk books and magazines that come their way, but also cartons of cheap remainder books. I have heard – though I haven’t seen them – that there are book vans that show up in certain neighborhoods once every three days or so, with blinking LED lights and megaphones tootling jingles.

All of which is to say: borrowing books for a fee, beyond the familiar institutions of private and municipal libraries, is neither a new nor rare thing in Mumbai.


Responding to the recent online controversy Dan linked to last week, Brian Wood has released a statement. His accuser Tess Fowler responded soon after.

The opening of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum seems to have been a huge success, at least judging by reports. Sean Kleefeld has a three-part post on it.

Retailer/columnist Brian Hibbs has written an editorial on the disquiet he and many felt upon hearing about the Fantagraphics Kickstarter that quickly gets derailed into a rehearsal of an old Hibbs hobbyhorse regarding serialization vs. books. Matt Wilson at Comics Alliance wonders if the fundraiser was the start of a new trend and wonders if it's workable.

The Autoptic festival in Minneapolis is having a crowdfundraiser of its own.

—Reviews & Criticism.
Robert Boyd reviews Jim Woodring, Gilbert Hernandez, and minicomics. Whit Taylor on Noah Van Sciver's Saint Cole. Bilge Ebiri is disappointed by the new Bill Watterson documentary. Mary Kinney writes about the bewilderingly popular Homestuck. Erik Davis has a short & sharp appreciation of Alan Moore up at Hilobrow. Holland Cotter at the New York Times reviews the Art Spiegelman Co-Mix show at the Jewish Museum and calls for more museum comics exhibitions. (If you're in the New York area, I strongly recommend attending that show.)

David Samuels has a long, very good interview with Art Spiegelman at Tablet. The Atlantic talks to Alison Bechdel about her reaction to the Fun Home musical. Tom Spurgeon talks to Gene Luen Yang. The Allie Brosh/Hyperbole and a Half media juggernaught makes it The Hairpin

20 Responses to Song & Dance

  1. patrick ford says:

    Within a few years there probably won’t be any print periodical comic books. I suspect DC and Marvel are looking to serialize comics in digital form, and then if there is a demand publish a collected print edition.

  2. James says:

    There will so be print serial and one-off comic books. They may not be Marvels or DCs, but so what?—they aren’t the only publishers.

  3. When the Big Two inevitably go to Digital Only for their monthlies I don’t know how those comics shops that have set their parameters so narrow are going to survive. Yes, there are smaller houses producing monthly comics, but I don’t know if that’s enough to sustain an entire retailing infrastructure.

    Which makes it even more sad that the vast majority of comics shops have refused to expand beyond the usual capes stuff. That would have helped them weather the coming storm. It’s beyond frustrating to me that comics has never seen a better moment than the one we’re in right now, with hundreds of varied, fascinating new works and artists, small publishers springing up right and left, amazing, beautiful collections of classic work that has been out of print for decades– and yet, walk in to probably 95% of the comic shops in this country and you’d have no idea any of that stuff existed.

  4. patrick ford says:

    James, My comment is in reply to the bit about hobby horses. I don’t think most comic book shops could survive without DC and Marvel publishing print periodicals.
    Retailers might be more concerned with a digital only “toe in the water” from DC or Marvel than they would be a Fantagraphics Kickstarter.
    Comic book shops are only something I hear about, so I have no stake in their survival.

  5. patrick ford says:

    I sometimes wonder if people in New York and other cities with comic book shops know what the comic book shops I’ve seen are like.
    They are small places which carry nothing except the most popular DC and Marvel comic books. Everything else would be available only by special order and those items would never be seen by any customer except the person who placed the order.

  6. My questionable figures combined with Diamond’s recent sales reportage in Publishers Weekly put the number of indie friendly regular US comic shops at about 15% of the total stores that regularly stock new books. I don’t know where anyone else would draw the line on indie-friendly, but I’m thinking of ones that go beyond just carrying Sweet Tooth and Chew. But, even the shop at my local mall that stocks Sammy The Mouse and one I visited in Sacramento that had Digestate when it came out got the books through Diamond.

    So, sorry John, even though “comics has never seen a better moment than the one we’re in right now, with hundreds of varied, fascinating new works and artists, small publishers springing up right and left” the reality is that if the small publishers are not working with Diamond (several are not) and are not marketing to those shops, they don’t have much of a shot in that market.

  7. James says:

    I think it not that “several” smaller publishers don’t want to be distributed by the monopolistic Diamond, it is that Diamond refuses to carry the comics of some publishers. They wouldn’t handle my alt/lit small press title, for instance and so it was hardly distributed at all. In this way Diamond puts forth only what they think is worth including in the marketplace. Meanwhile DC and Marvel will commit suicide via digital comic and so destroy the medium insofar as they are able.

  8. patrick ford says:

    The logical assumption would be Warner and Disney don’t care one tiny bit about Diamond or comics shops, except in the sense that they probably see them as an annoyance.
    It would not surprise me if people at Warner and Disney see comic book shops as reflecting poorly on their brand.

  9. spencer says:

    I think that Patrick is right. And I believe that if they had their way Disney and Warner would simply do away with comics all together. Hollywood Block Busters is what they really care about. The only reason to even keep producing comics in any form anymore is to *help* develop ideas for movies– maybe producing needed story board artists and script-writers is a minor concern too.

    I can’t help but think that perhaps the Coming Comics Apocalypse will benefit, in the longer-term, non-superhero and alternative comics, in both digital and printed form. If Diamond and the specialty shop system are broken, the economic base will change, non-superhero comics will be the only route for specialty shops that do survive. Over time this change in the economic base of things might also grow the audience both online and in the real world.

    But, it’s hard to deny that the vast majority of comics specialty stores will probably, eventually, go the way of borders books and Movie rental stores. Personally, I only go to comic book stores these days to find Bargain bin back issues and indie comics and I by my trades used on amazon.

  10. spencer says:

    The thing that worries me, and Peter Bagge talked about it in the last interview he did for TCJ (iirc), is that without companies making profits from comics who will pay cartoonists? Does this mean that full-time cartoonists– who get to spend their working life developing their cartooning skills, essentially– will soon be extinct? Will cartoonists have to rely on patrons like painters relied on the church in medieval times?

    It’s really a failure of the capitalist system, the fact that high quality scanning, the internet and torrent’s (Leonard T Spock anyone?), all products of the capitalist system (!) are now undermining that very system. Technology and capitalism has brought us to the point where good comics art may not be profitable soon and so will, to a great degree, disappear. This means we will be impoverished as a result of this economic system. I think it’s a sign of the times and a sign that capitalism has run it’s course as a progressive mode of production. Solution: communism. Long Live Trash Man, gentlemen!

  11. Hi Marc — I think James (above) was responding to your comment here, the jist of which I would agree with. I also agree with you in my wish for more alt-publishers to engage the existing comic shop market, but if you can’t get your books distributed through the only real channel those shops will use, I don’t know how much energy you can expend in that direction.

  12. Spencer– if the existing superhero shops would engage alt-comics they might spare themselves the coming Apocalypse, but that’s not the way most of them are wired, unfortunately. And there would be more work involved on their part than just putting a few different books on the shelf. I’m afraid that those shops have lost generations of potential customers by ignoring those comics readers who are looking for something else. Alt-comics readers at this point don’t generally think of the average LCS as a place to get the stuff they’re interested in.

    What I guess we can hope for is an expansion of the boutique stores (like Desert island, Quimby’s etc) that understand alt-comics, as well as the shops few and far between that have taken a more expansive view of the comic world (Austin Books, Big Brain etc), including alt-comics alongside the mainstream stuff.

  13. Andrew White says:

    It’s more than a bit of a reach to blame the financial woes of alternative comics on (scare quotes) “the Internet” or technology in general. Even Bagge himself says in the TCJ interview that was recently posted on this site that for a significant amount of time he was only able to work as a full-time cartoonist because of his wife’s income. Fantagraphics also has a well documented pre-Internet history of financial troubles.

    The full-time alt-cartoonist has always been a very rare breed indeed (even rarer if you choose to argue — I wouldn’t — that those who make the majority of their income from illustration/animation/other non-comics freelance work ‘don’t count’). To my mind that hasn’t changed significantly because of the Internet.

  14. steven samuels says:

    ” put the number of indie friendly regular US comic shops at about 15% of the total stores that regularly stock new books.”

    If by books you mean comics periodicals then I find that estimate highly suspect. Surely the percentage is far lower than that. The comic book shop norm is exactly what Pat Ford described above.

  15. steven samuels says:

    I like Hibbs’ ideas on serializing original graphic novels before they appear in book form in order to amortize the costs. What if back in the day there’d been a newsstand-friendly magazine that contained chapters from ACME Novelty Library, Eightball, HATE, Naughty Bits, Critters, L&R and all the rest? Unfortunately, that ship has sailed. Its not just comic book stores that are disappearing, but every other kind of print store as well. Maybe one day some original stories will be serialized in digital formats.

  16. Chris Duffy says:

    The idea of serializing and then collecting to amortize costs is a classic model, right? I imagine it’s an engine that keeps Dark Hourse, DC, and Marvel chugging (to some degree). I think it’s going to be more and more up to most cartoonists to FIND paying gigs and sell themselves to the few paying outlets (most of which probably won’t be all-comics projects). Then they can sell their own collections to publishers. It’s too bad, because the direct market was the “goose that laid the golden eggs” (as I think Scott McCloud has said) for cartoonists of all stripes to develop and shine (ie, no Cerebus, Bone, Clowes, Hernandez Bros, Chester Brown, etc as we know them without that venue). Still it’s not hopeless, just worser than it was.

  17. spencer says:

    good point.

  18. spencer says:

    Yeah, you make a good case. Bit of hyperbole on my part; Bagge’s too. (I think the internet certainly plays a role in the decline of Japanese comics though; very interesting story there but not too related to this discussion.) On alt-comics I agree the internet’s impact has probably been minimal.

  19. patrick ford says:

    As a consumer I strongly dislike the idea of serialization; assuming there will be a collection which follows.
    In many instances the collection will be “better” than the serialization (POISON RIVER) and is easier to keep track of.
    If a person has a great deal of disposable money and storage space they may opt for the serial—and the (often augmented) collection, but if not the reader will logically wait for the collection.
    This inclination is magnified when the serial form is difficult to obtain (special order purchased at a remote location which is frankly a pain-in-the -ass to get to).
    Sure if the cat was rubbing up against my leg and I had to make a run to Walgreens I’d not be able to resist browsing the rack for the most up-to-date Beto, but devoting a morning or afternoon to picking up a comic book which will later be available in a superior form is not something I would consider doing.

  20. Lou Copeland says:

    The only periodical I was dedicated to purchasing in the past fifteen years was Cerebus, and this was only due to the fact that Sim regularly produced a reasonable amount of content that never got re-published in the trades. Exclusive content seems to me the only way to get people to buy serialized work in decent numbers. I stopped buying Acme Novelty Library after I discovered that the first hardcover edition dropped all the little extras that made each individual issue a joy.

    Indy comics are still being serialized, only the method their doing so has evolved. We’re increasingly getting artists like Taiyo Matsumoto, Charles Burns, Los Bros., Ed Piskor, and others adopting variations on the European album model to get their projects out there piecemeal at more regular intervals, for instance.

    Given the conservative nature of the direct market in dictating that periodicals fit an exact size, be produced on a strict schedule, conform to narrow distribution constraints, maintain a certain layout, etc, I can’t see why any publisher would want to crawl backwards in time to an unyielding and increasingly narrower portion of the market. It’s a shame that as the market changes, adapts, and matures, the best response the direct market can come up with to react to these changes is to criticise publishers and artists for not doing things the way they were done in 1995.

    As for digital comics, it seems to me that as the print publications slowly lose traction, superhero comics will move to 5-10 page weekly installments to better encourage subscriptions. This schedule seems to me more encouraging for readers to pay for the service of having the latest installment automatically delivered to their tablets.

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