A Life Lived in Comics Day 10: The iPad, and All That It Implies

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As I feared, having the ability to instantly buy and read a ridiculous number of comics from the lazy convenience of my chair has not exactly curtailed the impulse buying habit. But Saturday was my first experience rebuying something digitally that I already own in print, and it was kind of . . . awesome.

A longtime fan of Joe Casey’s weirder superhero comics like Automatic Kafka, The Intimates and Gødland, last year I picked up his new series Butcher Baker the Righteous Maker, with its swaggering tone, backmatter that I find hard not to read as a parody of Matt Fraction’s Casanova text pieces, and Mike Huddleston’s American-flag-rock-candy colors. I was a little surprised to find myself not engaging with it—perhaps I just wasn’t feeling much swagger myself at the time, I dunno—but I dropped off after the third issue.

A year later, I’m lying in bed, reading Tarzan of the Apes on the Kindle app, as I figure with all the Tarzan material I’ve put into Dark Horse’s costing process, it’s time to actually read the original (downloading public domain books rather than buying them or getting them from the library is an enormous perk of owning a tablet). Taking a break from the research, I open up the Comixology app to find that they’re running a 4/20 sale on Casey, Jim Mahfood, and Ziggy Marley’s Marijuanaman, and that several of Casey’s other Image books are on sale as well, including Butcher Baker. I’ve never entirely trusted my original reaction to the series, so I decide that now is the moment to try again. Rather than get out of bed and retrieve the comics from the “for eBay” longbox, I download the free issue #1 without moving an inch.

(That’s right; technology is now at the point where it is easier and faster to download a brand new copy of a comic than walk across the room and pick up the one I already have. Even before buying an iPad I had pretty much stopped reading my print Dark Horse comps once our comics went day-and-date digital. Not even counting the fact that my employee account lets me read most DH books before they’re released and in some cases even printed—way better than waiting for comps, which sometimes come weeks after release—if I’m already in my chair with my laptop, why go all the way to the other room, where I may have to actually look around under other comics for them or even—gasp—have to get them out of boxes?)

I wasn’t entirely sure I was sold after issue #1, but damn if #2 wasn’t only 99¢! I bought #2–#4 and read them in a go, finding that the story works much better that way. Convinced, I purchased the remaining issues as well, having spent a total of $5.94 on seven comics.

What was different this time? Well, despite the over-the-top trappings of the story, it doesn’t actually move particularly fast, enjoying taking its time bringing plot threads together and reveling in a series of Blues Brothers-esque car chases, and so it’s a lot more rewarding in a bigger chunk. I may also just be more in the mood for its mean-spirited, damning portrait of America than I was before. I’m not exactly being profound when I point out that the main character, Butcher Baker, is a metaphor for the sad, tired America of today, a once-proud world-conquering superman who contents himself these days with a much less ambitious course of simple debauchery, a frightening blustery presence, but actually a pretty major fuck-up.

Recruited by the embodiment of mediocrity in American culture, Jay Leno, and the epitome of the evils of the American government, Dick Cheney, Butcher is given a seemingly simple mission to take out a much weaker, completely non-threatening target, and utterly fails. Sure, after blowing up a prison full of captured supervillains he suffers no pratfall, just has a good laugh and goes on his way, but he puts the bare minimum of effort into the task, and naturally there are several survivors, now intent on his destruction.

Again, I’m not exactly plumbing a hidden metaphor here; Butcher Baker’s old life cast him as a patriotic superhero clad in the flag, and the comic itself is soaked in red, white and blue. But my cynicism of the week lines up pretty nicely with it at the moment, and the book’s swagger goes down a lot easier now that I realize it’s actually “swagger,” the supposedly badass hero the real the butt of the joke when he gives a woman 23 orgasms but can’t climax himself. I’m still a little at a loss as to the disconnect between the book the backmatter describes and what I’m actually reading, but maybe it’s a little like the difference between living in America and hearing about America on Fox News, and maybe that’s part of the joke. Though as the series goes on, the backmatter becomes less about the rest of the book, so it’s less of an issue.

One last thought on why I maybe liked it more this time: the original iPad was released on April 3, 2010, and Butcher Baker #1 came out almost exactly a year later, on March 30, 2011. I don’t know if this was Casey and Huddleston’s intent, but the series’ luminescent colors feel designed to be read on a screen, while the stream-of-consciousness narration and microscopic memory and forethought of the main character feel perfect for a medium where a single page slides into view one at a time and just as quickly slides away. Butcher Baker feels like a digital comic that just so happens to be printed on paper. My issues #1–#3 remain in the eBay box, and someday when I’m not lazy I’ll actually sell them, but I’m much more excited than I expected to be to still have issues #6 and #7 ahead of me on the iPad.

I still feel guilty over having the thing in my house, but I can tell that the iPad, which I bought primarily to experiment with and read digital comics and because digital comics are an ever-larger part of my job, is already changing the way I read. We’re still at the stage where the digital comics I work on are, like Dragon Age, Prototype II, some more video-game tie-ins, and an original project I’m very excited about that will be announced next month, are geared toward eventual print collection, but it won’t last. The install base of tablets is growing incredibly fast, and once you have an audience willing to buy intangible products stored on devices, it’s a small leap to move to products designed specifically for those devices. I’m intently following Mark Waid’s ongoing experimentation with digital and found his “Luther” proof of concept pretty interesting (I’ve not seen Marvel’s new Infinite Comics initiative, as I don’t buy their comics based on Jack Kirby created or cocreated characters). I’m sure I was far from alone in being blown away by Chris Ware’s “Touch Sensitive” on the McSweeney’s app, and I’ve tried out a few others with greater and lesser success.

(I’m still uncomfortable with the “cloud” model used by Comixology and the major publishers—I hope this changes, because I do believe that having control over the files of the comics that they’ve paid for is important to customers like me—but I’m also curious to see if my own attitude over this changes as I get used to the current model. Maybe it’s just a technological shift I need to get my head around.)

BUT TODAY

Typical Monday, catching up on stuff. Got the tip sheet for Creepy #10 done, put in some comp lists, passed on lettering notes for Conan the Barbarian #5, and did a little training so that bookmaps, store profiles and basic workorders can be someone else’s problem. There was other stuff too, including a welcome visit to the office by Glory and Hell Yeah writer Joe Keatinge, but most excitingly, I approved what we call the purple slip for MIND MGMT #1.

Approvals at DH go through several stages. The yellow slip—that is, color-coded cover sheet with options to mark whether something is approved or not—is initial approval. This is how art proofs first comes downstairs from Production when it is scanned or retrieved from the FTP server and how design proofs come down the first time an editor sees them. All kinds of things come to editors on a yellow slip, from a line art to colored or lettered art, covers, extra materials like sketches for book collections, sometimes all at once, sometimes a few pages at a time. An editor either approves them as is, makes corrections and approves with those changes or requests another round of proofs, or approves them with onscreens, which I went into in Day 5.

Once art and designs are both approved and it’s time for the book to be sent to the printer, editors receive a purple slip, which is a proof of the entire book, laid out and ready to go out the door. That’s the stage of MIND MGMT that I looked at today, and I approved it as-is, meaning the book will be made into a PDF to go to the printer. The next time I see it will be an advance copy from the printer, but it if were a book there would be two more stages. The orange slip is the printer plotter that I’ve mentioned before, essentially the printer’s version of the purple slip, just to make sure everything made it to them okay. Finally, the green slip is the folded-and-gathered version of the book, the completed, printed book that only remains to be bound. We get this round to look at one final time to make sure nothing went wrong when the book was printing, and when it’s approved it will only be a short time before we see an advance copy.

Anyway, MIND MGMT has been a complete pleasure to work on with the brilliant Matt Kindt, and I’m very proud of the work we (mainly Matt) have done on the first issue, so tomorrow along with whatever else I end up writing about, I’ll be sharing some of the process of making the issue. It will be fun!

Tomorrow: A buddy and I are visiting the New Old Lompoc for one of its closing week parties. But I will also try to write! If I don’t manage it, the MIND MGMT stuff will go up the next day!

Why’m I doing this, again?

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