Ian Gibson: the economics of comics

Oh dear. Ian Gibson's donned his grumpy old man mantle again to talk about modern comics... and he's not impressed.


Down on the sunny Costa Comics (when it’s not raining, that is) sits a grumpy old man at his computer. Quite possibly heading for another inane ramble. But the Denizens of Geekiness request an element of comicism in my rambling…

So, being a good boy, when I’m not being a grumpy old man, I took myself off to do some research. Now, I happen to live in a black hole as far as comics are concerned and, unless I’m willing to travel extensively, I am limited as to what is available. But I found a charming little Indian shop that sells milk at 86p a jug which is cheaper than Tesco!! So they have my attention, and they also have comics!

I dug deep and purchased a couple. What surprised me most was the price! None of your ten pence comics any more. Now they set you back a couple of pounds each! I can’t pretend to be any sort of mathematical genius; in fact, my tax man reckons that if I add two and two I come up with three and a half at best! But I swear he makes it five, so the dispute is still ongoing! 😉 But when I think back to the days when I was producing Halo Jones, the cost of a copy of 2000AD was in the region of ten pence. Now it is closer to two pounds!! Yet back then I was being paid around 65 pounds per page for black and white art. What I can’t quite figure in my mathematical muddle is how an escalation in price of 17 times plus only translates into a pay increase of about three?

You do the math.

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If my money had gone up at the same rate as the price of the comics I’d be making enough to send my tax man into orbit (which is where he belongs anyway!) or something like eleven hundred a page! Something doesn’t add up.

But back to my research. Because I wasn’t originally interested in price comparisons, I was interested in what was inside the glossy covers. For those of you with an interest in details, the comics I purchased were Batman Legends Collector’s Edition and a Spider-Man 6, again a ‘collector’s edition’.

Happily, the Spider-Man comic had a classic Gil Kane and John Romita reprint in the back pages which was enjoyable to look through. But the main body of the comic, a story called Skin Deep, was unreadable. Bad art, poor layout… I couldn’t even start to read the story as the look of the thing was so appalling!!

I turned to Batman in desperation, but I’m sad to report that I wasn’t much better off! I did manage to read one of the stories: a piece by Paul Dini and Joe Benitez. But that was something of a last resort as I’d paid my fiver for the two comics and wanted to come away with something! The rest of the comic was a similarly unreadable effort like the Spider-Man one: very self indulgent artwork that didn’t invite the reader in, and computer colouring which made the whole thing bland to the extreme!

Now, when I was an avid reader of comics – thinking back to the likes of Jack Kirby, John Buscema and Neil Adams, to mention the American marketplace or over in Spain, the likes of Hernadez Palacios, Victor De La Fuente, Carlos Jimenez and Esteban Maroto – these guys knew how to grab your attention and keep it! Their job was telling the story the best they knew how – getting you sucked in within the first page or two. In fact I reckon the rule has always been, “if you haven’t grabbed your reader by the second page, you’ve lost him!”

Well, these couple of comics I bought lost me entirely. The price is outrageously high and the content is outrageously bad! I’m ashamed to be part of an industry that has so lost its direction. That’s part of the reason I quit working for 2000AD. I’m hoping I’ll find something worth illustrating. I’m writing stuff myself. But finding a publisher I trust is difficult when they’re busy producing rubbish like that!

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Guess that’s what tends to make me the grumpy old man? Think I’ll head down to the beach to throw pebbles into the sea! A minor form of Kanutism. 😉

Ian Gibson, long-time artist on Judge Dredd, is the co-creator of Halo Jones, and has also drawn for DC Comics. We think he’s ace. Find his website at www.ian-gibson.com

More Ian Gibson on Den of Geek: Advice and observationsTurning comics into films – and vice versaLetter from an anarchistManga, anime, and MiyazakiThank you for the comics