Marvel Comics came under fire a couple of weeks ago when it released Astonishing X-Men: Ghost Boxes #1. Written by Warren Ellis and illustrated by Alan Davis and Adi Granov, the comic, priced at $3.99 US, featured only 16 pages worth of story, and the rest of the issue was fleshed out with “bonus material.” That material took the form of Ellis’s scripts and rough breakdowns from the artists. Fans were incensed, as the inflated cover price certainly didn’t seem merited. I bought and read the issue in question as well, and I have to agree.
The publisher’s solicitation information mentioned nothing about the limited nature of the story pages. The issue’s solicitation information — still live on Marvel’s website — is not only silent on the limited story pages but also lists the artists as Davis and Frank Cho.
Marvel’s not the only super-hero publisher to lead its readers astray about the real nature of a higher-priced spin-off comic. Last week, DC released JSA Kingdom Come Special: Superman. I picked it up as well, and there were two things about the comic that I found surprising. The first was the lack of a stronger promotional effort from the publisher for a one-shot written and illustrated by Alex Ross, following up on his landmark Kingdom Come series of 1996. The second surprise was the fact that despite the 48 pages and $3.99 US cover price, the issue wasn’t filled to the brim with Ross story and artwork (plus ads, of course).
Like Ghost Boxes #1, this one-shot features numerous pages on the creative process. Featuring roughs, photo references, notes and commentary from Ross, the “bonus material” takes up 12 pages. Again, like Ghost Boxes #1, DC’s solicitation copy mentioned nothing about padding the book out with sketches and story commentary.
Of course, it’s likely that Diamond Comic Distributors will make these comics returnable since their contents don’t match up with the information upon which retailers based their orders. But returnability is something for the retailers, not the readers. Sure, some kind-hearted comic-shop clerks and managers might allow returns, but either way, it’s money out of their pockets.
When a retailer returns a comic, he or she only gets the discounted price back, not the cover price. A retailer may be able to recoup his wholesale cost for a particular issue, but he or she can’t make up the lost sales, real or potential. Furthermore, Diamond sometimes asks retailers to cover the shipping costs to return some items.
Personally, I’ve always enjoyed getting a look at the creative process. I love to pay attention to the man behind the curtain. And there have been comics and collected editions that included such material in the past, and I’ve appreciated those glimpses behind the scenes. The first time I remember enjoying such bonus material was probably when I read the Sandman: Dream Country trade paperback; writer Neil Gaiman’s script for “Calliope” was included, and I was mesmerized.
The thing is, when I have enjoyed such extras, they were extras, or at least seemed that way. When one thinks of bonus material, the “bonus” would seem to suggest it’s included for added value, not for a premium.