The problem lies with the traditional comic fan who refuses to accept the future of this medium is digital. I should know, because I am one of them. I have vehemently resisted the transition, to the point where I have argued with Tony Daniel at a panel session and the chairman had to interject. I like my art in my hands, I like it on the walls and I like to pick it off the coffee table and appreciate it again and again. It seems a little ironic that the growing proportion of art that is produced completely digitally is still cherished most on paper. It was time for Panel Syndicate, Brian K Vaughan and Marcos Martin to make a stand and take a step into the future.
Private Eye was a wonderful comic with a great story of a distorted civilisation with amazingly conceptual artwork. Above all else, it was only available digitally and for any price. It was free to download or you could pay over the odds, the decision was down to you. It was a marketing model that should not have worked, especially considering the numerous letters that praised the comic whilst simultaneously apologising for not paying a dime/penny for it. Ultimately the reader volunteered whatever they thought the art was worth, and much to everyone’s surprise, it worked. BKV stated in #7 that the sales of the book were way beyond expectations and more than they would be getting at DC and Marvel. Most importantly they reaped every cent of the profits, because that was the most integral element of the model. For intents and purposes, it was the future.
I embraced it. I bought every issue. I even purchased the “Making of” issue for at least three pounds a time. I can afford to buy comics and I would never dream of taking the issues for free, despite my dislike of digital comics. I did it because I enjoy the work of BKV and adore Marcos Martin. I was in admiration at the bravery of these two established artists in trying something new and releasing the ownership of creativity to the world. The risk they took in working hard on a project that may bear no fruit whatsoever was immense, and it is an equivalent risk young aspiring artists take everyday. Panel Syndicate succeeded but what they really wished to do was to expand their company. They are actively producing more comics for people to read and perhaps purchase by shining the light on new talent. I have the utmost respect for this team, especially when BKV suggested charging a flat rate for a compiled digital version of the first five issues but Marcos Martin insisted that it remains at the discretion of the reader.
It even got to the stage where fans and comic shop owners wrote letters requesting paper versions, to which BKV simply said no. There were no plans to produce a print edition and I felt somewhat vindicated in my decision to purchase the issues as I did. What is impressive here is that there is a market for this book in print and people will most definitely buy it, but that would go against the principles that the work was founded upon. BKV and Marcos Martin did not have to do this, they are established and are immensely talented but they did it for the art form itself, for the readers to enjoy their work and to pave the way for future talent.
I hope this goes to some length to explain why I felt angry and upset when I heard a hardcover landscape edition of Private Eye was being solicited for Christmas, by Image comics. Please don’t misunderstand me because I may have no rationale for these feelings, I just feel them. And one week later I am still trying to rationalise these emotions, which is my exact motivation for writing this piece.
As a reader and blogger I have no real voice in this arena and I do not judge the reasons for this decision. However I am very curious and would really be interested in the explanation. If I had known this compilation would be released, I imagine that I would’ve changed my mind about buying the comic, perhaps paid less or nothing at all. I wasn’t buying the comic; I was buying into the premise. By paying for Private Eye I was hanging my hat on a company that is going to change this industry and help it to survive. I have had enough of paying more money for headline titles that just fail to impress time after time. I pay for books that impress me on Kickstarter and I spend money on the people I see working hard to produce quality work. And I had consciously decided to buy digital.
I tweeted this as soon as the shock allowed by mind to form coherent sentences:
I had some interesting responses, mainly of excitement and support of the venture. I am not entirely sure if anyone else feels about the way I do but I received no solace from the diplomatic response I got from Panel Syndicate:
The problem with this reply is that the model is not going to grow significantly from people who buy the book as a print copy. They are the very people who refused to buy it in the first place, and subsequently told BKV in the letters page. The trade will catch the opportunistic reader who will see the amazing looking book on the shelf and can afford almost fifty dollars. They may then find Panel Syndicate online and see some other work that may pique their interest. It is an awfully expensive price for something you can buy online for nothing. The dedicated knowledge reader will certainly be putting in their pre-orders. There was little doubt Image would be producing it because they certainly would be giving more profit to BKV and Martin, though it certainly won’t be 100%.
Perhaps I’m being overtly negative because any exposure from the book will be worthwhile and warranted because it is genuinely amazing. I cannot realistically refute that but the cynic in me does feel it is to make more money. And why shouldn’t they? I really do hope that the financial and online exposure reasons are true because the alternatives would upset me more. There are some rumours that BKV sold the book to be able to write an issue of The Walking Dead. That degree of compromise would be unacceptable to me because of all the altruistic values he declared in every single issue of Private Eye, thrown to the wayside for personal interest.
Perhaps when all these emotions eventually subside, I will come to the conclusion that my discountenance is because I paid for something I would not necessarily have paid for had I known there would be a printed version in the future. This statement would imply I thought I had wasted my money, but that is certainly not true. It is just not what I paid for. It was the idea of Private Eye and the DRM free nature of Panel Syndicate that grabbed me. It made me change the way I thought about comics and I wished to support it. I honestly would like to say that I wish I hadn’t, but that would be ridiculous because the model is still in effect and I fully endorse it. And at the end of the day, I still love Private Eye and will continue to do, but only ever in its digital form.