Two to three years ago, it seemed inevitable: Single issue comic books, derisively called “floppies,” were on the way out. Graphic novels were the future for most publishers, and floppies weren’t even working as loss-leaders. But over the past year, the single issue is on the rebound and flourishing.
While I love graphic novels, the episodic consumption of comics is one of its unique strengths. Comics can excel in either form, but they aren’t interchangeable. Just as TV shows and movies present stories differently, so too do comic book series and original graphic novels. For a time, it seemed like The Walking Dead was the last great monthly comic book because it knew how to grab with the first issue, it knew how to use the monthly cliffhanger, it knew how to utilize those 30-some odd pages, it knew how to keep the status quo shifting. It still does, and now it’s being joined by more and more comics that are embracing the episodic nature of the format. It wasn’t always that way, though, in part due to creative patterns and economic changes in the industry.
In 2010, only an estimated 69 million comic books were ordered by North American specialty stores, the lowest quantity in nearly a decade. For publishers not backed by large entertainment corporations (i.e., not Marvel and DC), single issues were starting to look like the next horse and buggy, something from a soon-to-be bygone era.
The business model of Box Brown’s Retrofit Comics is old school all the way: He’s doing print editions, on paper and everything, of indie comics and selling them individually and by subscription. But he added a new twist this week when he announced on the Retrofit Tumblr that if the number of subscriptions reaches 130 (it was at 122 that day) by this Friday, every subscriber will get a two-color riso print (in full below). I find the concept of stretch goals fascinating, as they allow some customers to benefit from decisions made by others — I thought this was a good deal, so I subscribed, and now that a bunch of other people have subscribed as well, I get a free print.
While the whole rest of the world, it seems, is experimenting with digital comics, Box Brown has been going the opposite direction, publishing indie print comics through his own Retrofit Comics. I talked to him when he was launching the first season of Retrofit Comics, in fall 2011, and now that he’s back for a second round, I thought it would be a good time to ask him what he learned from the first iteration and what he will be doing differently this time.
Robot 6: What did you learn from your first year as the publisher of Retrofit Comics?
Box Brown: I think I spread myself too thin. I released 17 comics in about 18 months while working on a graphic novel of my own and I was working too hard. I wasn’t able to give each release the attention it deserved. Also, I learned a lot about “seasons” in the retail world. Stuff slows down a lot in the Summer. And, I think I also learned that people actually wanted a comic from Box Brown the cartoonist as well. Publishing your own work until a brand like this is kind of a weird feeling. I think I was uncomfortable with it for a while, but I’ve learned to say “fuck it”
Dust off your shoes and pull your tote bag out of the closet kids, it’s MoCCA time once again. The annual indie/small press comics show hosted by the Museum will take place at the Armory on Lexington Avenue in New York City this weekend. It promises to be a grand affair, with tons of publishers, minicomics, books and panels to choose from. Underneath the link we’ve put together a quick rundown of some of the more notable and interesting (well interesting to us any way) goings-on at the show this weekend.
Box Brown started Retrofit Comics as a Kickstarter project, with the intention of publishing 16 alternative comics. And by “alternative comics,” we mean 32-page floppies, not webcomics or graphic novels but old-school ink-on-paper pamphlets.
The enterprise bore its first fruit last week with the publication of James Kochalka’s Fungus, which features two mushrooms that are also characters in the video game he is developing; Kochalka described both in a recent interview with the A.V. Club. The next comic is Drag Bandits, by Colleen Frakes and Betsy Swardlick, and it’s due out in October. The current plan is to publish one comic a month for 17 months, at a cover price of $5 each. Four- and six-month subscriptions are available; each gets you a free comic.
In the original Kickstarter solicitation, Brown opined that floppy comics are important for creators because they allow them to connect with their audience while the work is still evolving:
Without the floppy comic (or mini-comic) the artist is forced to work on a largescale graphic novel mostly in private and THEN sell it. What if it doesn’t sell? What if the audience isn’t there? What if there are kinks that could have been worked out somehow? The artist basically has to go back to the drawing board. If there is an avenue and audience to work with, the artist can produce better and more refined work.
But he hasn’t neglected the retail side: He has already arranged for a number of retailers to carry the comics, which should bring them more (and more regular) traffic from indy-comics fans. Check the Retrofit website for updates as well as sample pages from upcoming comics; looks like there’s some good stuff in the pipeline.