The videos that shook the comics world, Part 2: Q&A with John Ferrier!

27 May

by Mike Hansen

In my opinion, not enough comics sites offer the perspective of the comics fans. Sure, there are plenty of sites offering “scoops” on upcoming comics (especially from the handful of big Direct-Market publishers), but the world of comics is a lot bigger than that: one just has to go to any comics convention to see how passionate every creator and consumer of comics can be. I’ve always believed that there’s an audience for anything, no matter how many folks may ignore or deride something: heck, even Sci-Fi (SyFy?) original movies have their own sincere, hardcore following.

Every comics fan has their own reasons for buying and reading comics, whether for entertainment value, artistic worth, collectibility, etc. But with the decline in independent comics shops, and the vast areas of the U.S. lacking even a single brick-and-mortar store (my entire county has one), the “talking comics” aspect of being a fan isn’t what it once was. Online message boards are a great way to touch base with fellow fans, but even those have their limitations when it comes to in-depth fan conversations. The comics industry really needs its own Ain’t It Cool News (though that site does have some great comics posts, like the League of @$Holes reviews!). I hope that some of these posts on All Day Comics can help steer us towards that. I’d love to hear what you readers think, so send an email or post a comment: Despite what some publishers would have you believe, your opinion matters!

Kris Shaw’s hardcover-comparison videos and crusade to Make Comics Better couldn’t have been made without the help of his partner-in-crime, fellow comics fan John Ferrier. I talked with John to get the view from the other side of the camera:

John Ferrier

John Ferrier

Tell me about how you became a comics fan, and a fan of collected editions. Any particular examples that hooked you? Was it your first comic, or was it a more gradual evolutionary process?

Very gradual for me. I was more of a baseball-card collector when I was a kid. My first comic experience was when my family went up north (where Michiganders go on vacation) to a cottage and I ran into the local party store. On the magazine rack was a Nightcrawler #1 that I picked up, from 1985, I think. But baseball cards were my only love, so I didn’t buy any more until the late ’80s: I picked up the first 7 Star Wars comics from a local comic shop. After that, I dabbled a little in the boom of the early ’90s as I let go of my love for baseball cards. I found comics were more fun to collect, since the baseball card market was getting way out of control, making it less fun to collect. My favorite back then was Battle Angel Alita.

Almost a decade later, I went into a Barnes and Noble and saw the softcover Spider-Man Masterworks: Then it was all over. I loved the idea of the collected edition. I’ve always wanted to read Spider-Man from the beginning, but it was never realistic to buy the originals. I met Kris a couple years after that. I had a couple shelves’ worth of books at the time. He showed me what else was available out there; I really had no idea. Because of him, now I have more books than I’ll ever be able to read!

My wife is a HUGE Battle Angel Alita fan. I’ve barely read it, since I’ve still got so many comics of my own to catch up on. She’s got a huge manga collection, but it hardly overlaps with mine – most of my manga is from Dark Horse (since I used to be the Manga Editor there), and most of hers is Viz/Del Rey/TokyoPop. Are you into any other manga?

I was mostly into Anime back then. I have a ton of DVDs from back then. I do have almost all of the Ranma 1/2 graphic novels!

Me, too! That’s one of my all-time favorites. So are you as frustrated as we are about James Cameron taking forever to make a Battle Angel movie?

Yes. I doubt it will ever happen. If it does, I think it should be CG.

It’s interesting that both you and Kris got hooked on comics thanks to the first Spider-Man Masterworks volume. (I actually just got a copy of the softcover a few weeks ago!) I wonder how many comics have that kind of power to create a lifelong love of comics like that. (For me, it was early-’80s X-Men comics that finally hooked me.) It seems to me that there’s some material that should always be available in one format or another – given how old the comics audience is these days, I think we need more books like that to bring in new readers. What do you think?

Spider-Man Masterworks vol 1

The comic that made a collector out of John (and Kris).

That’s a tricky question. The market is dwindling for comic buyers every month. Barnes and Noble is still around, and that’s where I discovered the Masterworks. It got me buying collected editions. But since Borders is gone, how much longer can Barnes and Noble last as a place to discover new books? I rarely go into a bookstore anymore. I already spend most of my money online for books each week, for usually around 40% off with free shipping. Here’s an example: Circuit City went out of business; now Best Buy is struggling. A lot of people are using stores as showrooms and going home and buying items online. I do. So, do I think there should always be a softcover volume 1 Spider-man Masterworks available? Yes. Though I also believe that there are very few books you can do that with, too.

My wife’s opinion, from a moviegoer’s perspective: “I agree that it’s good to make available updated versions of books to bring in new readers. People read a book; a movie is made based on that book; in general most people’s interest is piqued to see the movie; then new, less hardcore readers spend gobs of money on soft- and hardcover versions of the same story that’s different only in that the cover of the book shows a picture of the actor or actresses getting famous for their depictions of the characters.”

As a comic-book buyer I disagree, because I like to keep the original comics separate from the movies. I wouldn’t buy a Harry Potter novel with a cover that has the actors on it. But I know it works with the younger crowd, because that’s what they associate it with.

On a side note, I want to add that the ’90s X-Men cartoon is what got me interested in picking up the Uncanny X-Men Masterworks.

Exactly how hardcore a comics collector are you? I get the impression that you buy a LOT of collected editions. How many do you have right now?

I have 50 short boxes full of hardcovers and trades. I haven’t counted, but I can send you a list! Strangely enough, I still don’t think of myself as a hardcore collector, though. I just enjoy the history of it and reading the stories. In my head are the plans for my “book man-cave” that I should have up within the year with plenty of shelves.

Does your wife put you an an “allowance,” like Kris’s? I’m on a pretty strict budget these days, which is why I usually buy mine used/less-than-mint.

Not really. I tend to buy them as I want. I do have a backlist of books I would like that I didn’t get the first time around because I’m focusing on buying older things like DC Archives. That takes money away from new purchases. Kris has a better system than I do on buying them every week. Plus I buy a lot more DC than he does. I can’t keep up! Kris lays awake plotting purchases. I let books slide and then try to scoop them up before they go out of print. I can send you that list, too!

No, that’s okay – I’ve got enough to keep track of with my own collections and want lists! From talking with Kris, it sounds like a lot of the advocacy to improve Marvel’s collected editions started several years ago. Were you a part of that?

Kris’s push to get Marvel to improve their hardcovers was before I met him.

Do you have the same, let’s say, passion for collected-editions quality as Kris?

Not that bad. I want books to lay flat with no gutter loss. But I am getting worse – I mean, more “passionate” – each year.

So, the videos with Kris. Which ones had your involvement?

Just two: Dark Horse (Brothers of the Spear Archives) vs. DC (Hawkman Omnibus) vs. Vanguard (Wally Wood: Strange Worlds HC), and the Marvel Spider-Man Omnibus Vol. 2 vs DC’s New Teen Titans Vol. 2 Omnibus. I’m sure there will be lots more to come.

What led to your involvement in making the comparison videos?

I saw Kris struggle with his camera on the first one, so I wanted to help. And I would have to supply books Kris would never buy to begin with!

From a quality standpoint, what makes a good comic, in your opinion? How does the presentation of the material affect your enjoyment of it?

I prefer hardcovers over trades any day of the week. I don’t want to wrestle with it, though. Sewn [binding] all the way for me…obviously. Kris is way more hardcore about all of the little things, like paper, color restoration, and gradient shades.

Here’s a chart Kris and I made up:

1. Sewn Binding (Enjoyment +10%)
2. If it’s out of print, it must be good (+10%)
3. Finding a book for half off at a Con (+10%)
4. Authentic color restoration (+10%)
5. Hardcover (+10%)
6. If it’s old, it must be good (+10%)
7. If a book falls below 500 copies on ICv2 it must be good.  (+10%)

This list makes a mediocre book seem outstanding!

Now that’s hardcore! You’re clearly very passionate about collected editions – what factors go into your decision whether to buy a book or not?

If I would want to one day read it. I constantly worry about books I want going out of print.

In your opinion, which publishers are doing the best job with their output? Which are doing the worst job?

I’ll be basing this mostly on the binding, since the paper doesn’t affect me like it does Kris. I think Marvel is doing a great job. DC is trying, but it’s still too soon to tell. Although their Archives line is incredible. I like a lot of what Dark Horse puts out in their Archives line. Image’s oversized hardcovers are pretty darn good. Pete’s doing a fantastic job on his Harvey Horrors. Hermes Press does a solid job. DC is still in last. I need more proof that they are turning it around.

Your all-time top 10 favorite comics TO READ?

I’m sure this list will change if I ever finish my backlog.  There are books I haven’t even cracked open yet:
1. Silver Age Amazing Spider-Man
2. Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four
3. Silver Age Daredevil
4. Battle Angel Alita
5. Bone
6. Uncanny X-men (I’ve only read the first 7 Masterworks)
7. ’50s Horror
8. Walking Dead
9. Wonder Woman by George Perez
10. Brubaker’s Captain America

Your all-time top 10 collected editions based on the total package?

1. Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus Vol. 1 Second print
2. Fantastic Four Omnibus Vol. 1  Second print
3. Green Lantern/Green Arrow by Neal Adams slipcased HC
4. Absolute Dark Knight
5. Absolute League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol. 1
6. Bone hardcover collection
7. Absolute Watchmen
8.  Any EC Archives
9.  Any Harvey Horrors HCs
10. Complete Peanuts

What do you think about DC’s recent improvements in its collected editions? Are these isolated incidents, or are you seeing a general change in approach?

I think we are seeing a new direction, although it’s still too soon to tell.  I need to see a few more Omniboo come out to say for sure.

In my experience, DC isn’t nearly as communicative with its fans than other publishers. Most publishers tend to be pretty open and direct with fans, while DC seems to only issue any statements about its releases to retailers. Do you have any opinion about this?

DC doesn’t seem to want to be too fan-friendly. Dealing specifically with retailers is just being snobbish. The fans buy the books. And by purchasing books online, you don’t get to talk to a dealer to get that type of info until it’s too late. I really enjoy the survey on the Masterworks boards. [Every year or two, the Marvel Masterworks editors create a survey for Marvel Masterworks fan site board members to give their input into future volumes.]

Although direct-market retailers are technically the publishers’ customers, the readers are the ones who have the most influence on what retailers are preordering. As an outspoken fan and heavy-duty comics spender, how do you see your role in all this (if any) going forward?

I enjoy high-end hardcovers. There’s not a large market for these books. I can’t keep up weekly. I have to carefully pick and choose each week from my backlog of these low print runs. I’ll continue to purchase them, but I don’t think the market can sustain the run it’s on.

…And there you go. Many thanks to John and Kris for sharing the fan perspective: I hope comics publishers are paying attention, because there are a lot more outspoken readers/customers out there, and the internet’s made it easier than ever to spread the word anytime something’s done wrong (or right)!

After looking at where some of the fans are coming from, I spoke with one of Marvel’s key persons involved in producing its collected editions. Stay tuned for an interview with Marvel researcher/editor/writer Jeph York, coming very soon!

4 Responses to “The videos that shook the comics world, Part 2: Q&A with John Ferrier!”

  1. contendercomics May 27, 2012 at 14:28 #

    cool video. i never buy those big volumes but it was informative.


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